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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.