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'Melissa' Attacks Computers Worldwide Through E-Mail

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RALEIGH — Thousands of computer users around the world got nailed this weekend by acomputer virus called Melissa. The virus, which spreads throughMicrosoft's Outlook e-mail program, breeds itself automatically.

Melissa is a very real virus. It is one of the relatively new types called a macro virus.

TheComputer Emergency Response Teamat Carnegie Mellon University first reported Melissa Friday afternoon. Since then, it has spread around the world.

Hundreds of thousands of computers have already been infected by Melissa. The e-mail subject line shows "Important Message" probably including the name of a friend or co-worker.

The body of the message says "Here is that document you asked for. Don't show to anyone else" with a smiley face. Do not open the message. Report what you have found to your company's Information Technology team.

If you open the message attachment, it automatically sends the same message to the first fifty people in your Microsoft Outlook e-mail program. That is why Melissa spread faster than any virus known.

Melissa apparently does no harm to a computer's memory or programs, but it does cause big problems elsewhere.

"What makes it dangerous is that it can spread very, very rapidly and fill up mail servers causing mail servers around the world to crash," said Ira Winkler, computer security expert.

Anti-virus software makers includingSymantecandMcAfeehave patches that will detect and reject Melissa.Microsoft, itself hit by the virus, also has a patch.

Another reason Melissa spread so quickly is that you get the message from people you trust. Whoever developed Melissa was very cunning, for all the wrong reasons.

Computer security experts say we have just seen the tip of the iceberg.

Until recently you could not easily get a virus from e-mail. Melissa is a macro, a small program that automates tasks in documents. That is what makes Melissa so tough to handle.

If you get e-mail, whether at home or at the office, with "important message" in the subject, just delete it.


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