Elec Telegraph: Melisa travels worldwide

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ISSUE 1404, Tuesday, 30 March, 1999

Hard-core virus Melissa sows computer chaos, By Robert Uhlig, Technology Correspondent, and Philip Delves Broughton, in New York

AN e-mail virus called Melissa is threatening to paralyse computer systems around the world by spreading a list of pornographic sites.

The virus, unleashed on Friday afternoon, has reached Britain after bringing almost 60 major companies and organisations in America to a halt. As employees returned to work yesterday, they were warned not to open any e-mails. But virus experts say the bug has already infected more than 60,000 computers at one British firm.

Once Melissa is opened, it finds the e-mail address book and sends itself to the first 50 names. To the embarrassment of the computer users, the message is a list of hard-core porn sites that appears to come with the sender's recommendation. Within hours, the virus can replicate itself thousands of times, clogging e-mail systems and forcing networks to be closed.

"This is absolutely massive," said Alex Ship, virus technologist at Star Internet, of Cirencester, Glos. "We are watching the number of infected files reaching us tick up in front of our eyes." Mr Ship said his firm usually picked up one or two viruses a day. "Melissa is coming at us at the rate of one or two a minute," he said.

One high-profile victim was the governor of North Dakota, who sent a list of pornographic sites to confused constituents and party donors. The e-mail containing the virus gives its subject as an "important message from" followed by the name of the sender.

The message reads: "Here is that document you asked for . . . don't show it to anyone else." A document called list.doc is attached. Opening the e-mail is harmless. But opening the document releases the virus, which is believed to affect only the e-mail program Microsoft Outlook.

The virus received its name because it leaves a change on the registry file including the words: "Melissa? . . . by Kwyjibo." Several virus writers go by the name of Kwyjibo, a joke name from an episode of The Simpsons, in which one of the cartoon characters insists that the seven-letter word is valid.

At times when the date is equal to the minute, say, at 10.14am on April 14, Melissa drops a text message derived from The Simpsons script into any document opened at that moment. "Twenty-two points, plus triple-word-score, plus fifty points for using all my letters. Game's over. I'm outta here."

-- Old Git (anon@spamproblems.com), March 30, 1999


my husband's workplace (small company) received 72 melissa messages over the weekend. all of them were removed without opening.

-- jocelyne slough (jonslough@tln.net), March 30, 1999.

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