A fast spreading computer worm infecting business computers worldwide that use popular Microsoft database software, slowed Internet traffic to a crawl early Saturday. The new worm (similar to a computer virus) called W32/SQL Slammer or Saphire transmitted thousands of packets (large bundled amounts of information) from infected systems, disrupting hundreds of thousands of systems worldwide.

Bank of America Corp., one of the country?s largest banks, said many customers could not withdraw money from its 13,000 ATM machines because of technical problems caused by the computer worm. They say service has now been restored.

South Korea was hit very hard, with most of that nation?s Internet users unable to access webs sites for nearly half the day. Ripples continued through other Asian countries, such as Korea & Japan. Computers at Korea?s Telecom Freetel and SK Telecom failed.

The worm, sought out vulnerable computers using Microsoft?s SQL Server 2000 software. Like the Code Red worm, which spread in July 2001, the ?Slammer? worm is memory-resident (it never writes to disk). Also, like the Code Red, computers can be protected from the worm by installing a patch provided by Microsoft from their website. Experts said that simply rebooting can clean an infected system, but the system will soon get re-infected if it is connected to a network without the patch.

The software flaw was first detected in July 2002 and a short time later, Microsoft began offering the free patch.

?Everything is starting to come back online,? said Bill Murray, a spokesman for the FBI?s National Infrastructure Protection Center on Sunday. ?We know what the issue was and how to mitigate it, and we?re just imploring systems administrators to apply the patches that will prevent this from propagating again.?