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RealTime IT News

New Melissa Virus Starting to Spread

The first major widespread virus of the new millennium may bear a familiar name: Melissa.

A variant of the Melissa virus, known as W97M.Melissa.W -- though it seems to have picked up the monikers Melissa-X or Melissa 2001 -- has been spreading in the form of a Macintosh-formatted Microsoft Office document for about a month. The virus, which can hit both Windows and Mac-OS machines, bears the subject: "Important Message From USERNAME," with the virus changing USERNAME to the name of the infected computer's user each time it propagates itself. The virus began picking up steam a couple of days ago, and F-Secure, McAfee and Symantec are all reporting infections. Symantec said more than 1,000 infections have been reported and more than 10 sites have been hit.

The virus is spread through Microsoft Outlook, though a computer need not use Outlook to be infected. A machine running Outlook Express or an e-mail client from another provider may be infected but will not spread the virus. The virus modifies MS Word settings and infects documents and templates. It may also crash e-mail servers and e-mail sensitive documents. An infected computer using Outlook as its e-mail client will e-mail a copy of the virus to up to 50 people in its address book.

Currently the virus attachment is appearing in the form of a document called anniv.doc, though that could change.

Melissa.A, the primogenitor of the Melissa family of viruses, first hit the Internet as an e-mail chain letter in March 1999, rapidly becoming one of the most widespread viruses in history. Melissa.A's descendent is only rated a medium damage threat, but has the potential to spread very quickly because it propagates itself in the same way the original virus did.

Most Internet security firms have already updated their virus protection software to account for Melissa.W.