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What is the Melissa Virus?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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The Melissa virus refers to a computer macro virus that can infect computers and email gateways, when users run Microsoft Word 97 or 2000, or Microsoft Outlook 97 or 98. Usenet groups first received the virus, created by David L. Smith, in the late 1990s. By the end of the 1990s, some users and mail clients were shut down by the clogged replicated emails being sent and received by infected computers. Companies like Lucent, Microsoft and Intel all had to temporarily shut down their email servers because the virus was generating huge amounts of dummy emails and clogging the system.

The virus has several forms and may infect a computer is the following manner:

    1. The virus comes in .DOC formation, and attempts to replicate and send itself to other computers via email addresses on the computer. 2. A variant of the virus does the above and also attempts to delete files.
    3. The user receives an email titled “My Pictures” which is blank but contains an attached file. When opened, it deletes data and sends itself to the first 40 entries in a person’s email address list.

Though the Melissa virus can be a problem, many people with newer forms of Word or Outlook have no problem with the worm type virus. It doesn’t work on Word 2003, 2004, 2007. It is also called a macro virus, because it uses macro language. This is programming language that can be imbedded in other programs causing them to run immediately when opened. Most virus detectors will tell you if a program contains macros before you open it, so you can decide whether or not you should. You can also disable opening macros or documents that contain them on most computers.

The best defense against encountering the Melissa virus is to use up to date anti-viral software. This can’t be stressed enough, since there are plenty of other viruses that can infect a computer in various ways. It’s always wise not to open attachments in emails when you don’t know the user. If you’re unsure and you think the user might be someone you know, consider giving that person a phone call or emailing them to ask if they sent an email.

Viruses like the Melissa Virus tend to be captured by other hackers and updated, so it’s possible that variants of the program might reemerge from time to time. Though many people have anti-viral software, they may not run it as often as needed it or update as is necessary when new viruses show up. The time it takes to run viral checking programs or get an update is well worth it if you want to make sure your computer continues to run and is virus free.

As for the programmer of the Melissa Virus, authorities worked diligently to catch David Smith, and it took three agencies, the FBI, Monmouth Internet, and the New Jersey State Police to discover Smith, identify him as the programmer and arrest him by the end of 1999. Smith is known for not only creating the virus, but also for creating the most expensive virus to companies (so far), and for being among the first prosecuted for creating a vicious hazard to individuals and corporations alike. He was fined $5000 US Dollars (USD) and sentenced to 10 years in prison, but he cooperated with authorities and had his sentence and fines reduced. He later went to work for the FBI to track down viruses, find people who are writing them, and look for solutions when viral infections of a computer or network occurs.

EasyTechJunkie is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a EasyTechJunkie contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By Drentel — On Jul 31, 2014

Those free security systems that you get online are not very good at protecting your computer. Most of them would have been of no use against the Melissa virus. This virus used email to spread and most of the free trial security programs do nothing or little to protect you from infected emails.

Spend the extra money and buy a good security system. You get what you pay for.

By Feryll — On Jul 30, 2014

Somehow my computer was infected by a virus and I had to delete everything and basically start over. The virus wouldn't let me go to any of the places where I might be able to go back and reset the computer to a point where all the programs were in order and working properly.

This was so frustrating because I must have tried a hundred different ways to repair the problem and each time when I thought I was getting close to getting the problem solved I would be denied.

I had an up to date security system and I was not visiting porn sites, so I'm not sure how I contracted the virus, but this goes to show that no matter how careful you are you and your computer are still vulnerable to viruses and to being hacked.

By Animandel — On Jul 29, 2014

Worm viruses and computer viruses in general really scare me. I always make sure my security programs are updated and running. I do a scan of the computer at least once a day and sometimes more. Even though, we have some parental controls on our kids' computers, I worry they will go to some dangerous sites and pickup a virus.

I have yet to have a major problem, and I think the reason is that we are so careful and we don't click on porn sites where the chances of getting your computer infected are so much greater.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a EasyTechJunkie contributor, Tricia...
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