Melissa Virus Overloads E-Mail Servers

E-Mail servers suffered from delays and, in some cases, needed to come down for de-bugging on Monday as the Melissa Word macro virus took its toll.

Meanwhile, the FBI said Monday it is investigating the spread of the virus, amid reports it has already affected more than 100,000 users.

First reported on Saturday by Carnegie Mellon University’s Computer Emergency Response Team, the Melissa virus attaches itself to e-mail documents. It is spread when a user executes the Microsoft Word document file attached to the e-mail message.

The Word document contains a Visual Basic script macro that attempts to find a Microsoft Outlook address book; if it succeeds, 50 new e-mail messages are generated. Each new message includes the words “Important Message From” in the subject line. The virus adds the name of the person who’s computer is infected.

“It grows exponentially,” said Russell Wong, a systems manager with Scient Corp. “For every one person who gets it, 50 people get messages. It would eventually bog down a large system.”

Wong said the original infected document, LIST.DOC, contains the URLs of pornographic Web sites. If a system is infected and both Microsoft Word and Microsoft Outlook are running, there is the potential for confidential documents to be spread throughout the Internet.

“If you are infected and you work on another document, that document is spread,” Wong said.

Scient Corporation, a developer of Word macro applications for e-business, was forced to shut down its e-mail servers in order to perform a complete de-bugging operation after company employees inadvertently spread the virus on Friday.

After the virus was discovered, major anti-virus vendors quickly developed and released fixes for the virus. Officials at Digital River, saying that the Web sites of anti-virus vendors were overwhelmed with traffic, set up a special Web page for downloading a free Norton AntiVirus Melissa definition file.

The FBI’s National Infrastructure Protection Center has been looking into the virus since word of it surfaced late Friday. A spokesman told Reuters the center had received reports of “significant network degradation and e-mail outages” at major corporations and Internet service providers.

Michael Vatis, the center’s director urged e-mail users to “exercise extreme caution when reading their e-mail for the next few days.”

Vatis also confirmed the FBI has launched an investigation into the virus.

“The transmission of a virus can be a criminal matter and the FBI is investigating,” he said.

News Around the Web