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SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — People might want to keep an eye on their home computers as a massive viral infection besets the Internet this week, information officials here said Wednesday.

Private computers — especially those in Asia that are not routinely updated with security protection — could fall prey to the Conficker virus, thought to have tainted more than 12 million machines worldwide, said Brian Hurdlow, chief information officer for Sasebo Naval Base.

Military computer systems are maintained and updated with security features to fend off such viruses and are probably not in danger, Hurdlow said.

Conficker spread rapidly through the Internet last year to computers using Windows operating systems. It produced an army of infected computers that security experts say might be activated this week as a sprawling "botnet," a computing entity controlled by hackers that is capable of crime or vandalism in cyberspace.

While the malicious Internet worm is trying to reach its creators more aggressively, so far nothing noticeable has happened, according to The Associated Press.

"When you get to the home computers, people really need to be concerned and watching this," Hurdlow said. "If they haven’t installed [security updates], they may have a problem."

The purpose of Conficker and how it might affect personal computers was still unknown Wednesday as infected machines in Asia, Europe and the Americas awaited orders from the virus’ clandestine creators.

The virus exploits a security hole in Windows-based computers that can be filled by up-to-date security programs. Often home computers will collect automatic security updates online from companies such as Symantec or Microsoft, which both issued patches to contain Conficker.

But owners who don’t subscribe to security updates or don’t allow the updates on their computers run a risk of catching the virus, Hurdlow said.

Once a computer is infected, the virus might block attempts to update security or to visit sites that provide security patches to fight it, he said.

"If you can’t go to any of the antivirus protection Web sites, you are probably infected," Hurdlow said. He said he had not heard of any local problems with the virus on Wednesday.

The Department of Homeland Security issued an online tool Monday for federal and local governments, companies and other groups to scan computer systems for the virus.

Hurdlow said the high infection rate in Asia could be attributed in part to wider public access to high-speed Internet service.

The virus was predicted to activate on April Fool’s Day, but as the calendar day flipped around the world, there were no major disruptions immediately reported.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

45%

An IBM team in the U.S. determined that the majority of infected computers — about 45 percent — are in Asia and about 31 percent are in Europe, the Washington Post reported. Only about 6 percent are in North America.

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