Writing More 'Love Letters'

SAN FRANCISCO (05/05/2000) - Love Letter, the most damaging and widespread e-mail virus to date, now has spun off as many as five variants, says antivirus vendor McAfee Associates Inc.

The original virus is starting to come under control, McAfee executives say.

But the two copycat viruses that emerged late yesterday, "Joke" and a Lithuaninan strain with the subject line "Susitikim shi vakara kavos puodukui...", operate similarly to the original Love Letter worm.

"Our customers have been able to deploy cures to Love Letter and its variants," says Gene Hodges, president of the McAfee division at Network Associates.

Damages in the United States are estimated at $2.6 billion through Thursday, according to Computer Economics. That number could rise to $10 billion by next Tuesday, making Love Letter the worst worm ever. And the effects of Love Letter have been felt worldwide.

McAfee has reason to believe that the virus originated in Manila. "There is a user ID of spider@mail.com," Hodges says. "I wouldn't say we're dead sure it came from the Philippines but it did originate in the Far East."

Easily Spread

One reason for the worm's virulence: "It is craftily designed to spread itself," Hodges says.

The worm looks into your Outlook address book and sends itself to everyone listed there, and it also copies over widely distributed files such as .jpeg, .mp2, and .mp3 files, Hodges says.

The three named variants operate similarly and affect files in similar ways, he adds. But our worm worries may not be over, as McAfee has only just identified the possible new strains.

The virus affects only Windows systems, Hodges says. "It uses Windows scripting typically installed with Internet Explorer 5.0." None of the strains affect Macintosh, Linux, or Unix systems, Hodges says.

Better Prepared?

Corporate customers have gotten better at responding quickly since last year's Melissa virus, Hodges says.

McAfee offers a Web-based cleaning system for the virus at MyCIO.com, as well as a downloadable update to the McAfee antivirus scan software.

"Since yesterday, we've serviced over 1 million customers wordwide," says Srivats Sampath, McAfee.com's president and chief executive officer. "It's starting to get under control; people are becoming informed of the virus and the mechanisms to protect themselves from it."

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