The e-mail includes an attachment. Anyone who opens the attachment is literally opening his or her computer to the rest of the world.
The e-mail tends to come from someone known to the user, which has led many people to open it. After the e-mail is opened, it sends the infection to everyone in the user's address book. Every time the e-mail is opened, it sends itself again.
The virus also contains a password-stealing file and overwrites MP3 and JPEG files.
"For artists particularly, it's a very, very difficult situation," says Paul Hetzel, IT Manager at WRAL. "In addition to that, you're certainly at risk for hogging up your system resources and possibly crashing your system."
Computer users are advised to delete any message with the "ILOVEYOU" heading and then delete the e-mail from the delete items folder. Users can also download anti-virus software from their computer's Web site to fix the virus.
The virus hit Europe and the Far East Wednesday and spread to the U.S. Thursday morning. Many companies and government offices have received the e-mail worldwide, including SAS Software in Cary, the town of Cary, the N.C. Dept. of Commerce and others.
"We rely very heavily on Internet e-mail. We had our Internet connection shut down for quite a while which affects us getting product information, getting information to our customers," says Greg Stitt, vice president of technical services for Datanet, Inc. "It's a tremendous burden. It puts a tremendous financial impact on a lot of companies."
Some companies are closing down their e-mail servers until a fix is in place.
TheFBIis investigating the virus, which apparently originated in the Philippines.
In a recent survey, 85 percent of major companies found viruses in their systems. Viruses and other computer attacks cost companies more than $256 million. The "ILOVEYOU" virus could top that by itself.
Last year, computer users spent $12 billion on virus protection.