Library users in Portsmouth face the annoyance of up to two weeks without Internet access after the organisation’s computer systems were hit by an unnamed ‘virus’.

Although the critical book lending system is working, the suspension of internet access looks like an attempt to ensure that the source of the outbreak is found and doesn’t spread beyond the public access computers.

Precisely which type of malware has struck is not clear. The term ‘virus’ if often used generically despite the fact that much modern malware uses hybrid techniques with worms (fast-spreading malware) and Trojans (programs capable of calling other possible more dangerous malware) among the more dangerous possibilities.

Last week in a similar case, 1,300 schools in Serbian capital Belgrade were hit by a virus that brought the capital’s education service computer systems to a standstill. The outbreak of what more accurately sounds like a worm reportedly caused the systems to require a complete ground-up software overhaul.

The Portsmouth and Belgrade examples could be seen as examples of the apparently growing everyday threat caused by malware. More likely, public sector IT departments are jumping on problems more quickly, detecting threats that might have gone unnoticed in the past.