New Virus Cripples the Nation!
Posted April 26, 1999
The headline sounds like something out of a science fiction movie. On March 26,1999, a virus was released and spread so fast that in a matter of days, it had become
a worldwide epidemic. This virus did not emerge from a terrorist's biological weapons lab or from some exotic rainforest. This virus, simply called "Melissa," originated on a personal
Melissa is a computer virus, which can "infect" computers and cause damage. Computer viruses were named this way because of their resemblance to biological viruses.
Think of the programming code of a computer file as DNA. Where biological viruses are small pieces of DNA or RNA, computer viruses are small strings of programming
code. Biological viruses will infect a host and use the host's own cells to replicate itself, eventually spreading to other organisms. A computer virus will "infect"--or insert itself
into--the programs of a computer and replicate itself. The next time infected files are sent to or used by another computer, the receiving machine can "catch" the virus.
To get rid of a virus in your computer, your computer must be "disinfected" with an "anti-virus program." However, some sophisticated computer viruses, like Melissa,
have the ability to mutate and evolve to avoid detection by anti-virus programs.
When a computer is infected with Melissa, the virus automatically e-mails itself to the first 50 names in the computer's e-mail address book. The new message appears
to family and friends with the subject line "An Important Message from ." Attached to the e-mail is a Microsoft Word document called "List.doc," which contains the embedded
It is common practice while using e-mail to not open attached files from people you do not know. Melissa is one of the first viruses that appears to come from a friend.
Aside from possibly disabling some security settings on your computer, Melissa will not damage your system. Instead, it was designed to clog up e-mail systems--and
it was effective. Many companies with large e-mail systems had to take their systems off-line to combat the virus. The hardest hit were some governmental offices--including the United
States Marine Corps.
On April 2, 1999, 30-year-old David L. Smith of Trenton, New Jersey, was arrested for allegedly creating the pesky virus. He claimed he was just curious as to whether
it would work. Smith was captured after a lawyer from America Online tipped off the FBI that Smith may have created the virus using a stolen AOL account.
Visit the Web page of a major network security vendor (e.g., Symantec at www.symantec.com
or Network Associates at www.nai.com) and learn more about
viruses. Write a short paper comparing computer viruses to biological viruses.