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'I Love You' Virus Hits Computers

Editor's Note: This same virus has been encountered at local businesses throughout Green Country. Watch The News on Six tonight at 5:00, 6:00 and 10:00 for the latest on this story.

A new software virus spread quickly around the world today, swamping U.S. computer networks with e-mails entitled ``ILOVEYOU'' after crippling government and business computers in Asia and Europe.

Experts said they were stunned by the speed and wide reach of the virus — which struck members of U.S. Congress and British parliament — and warned computer users not to open the ``LOVELETTER'' attachment that comes with the contaminated e-mail.

``It appears to be the same sort of class of virus as Melissa,'' the e-mail virus that overwhelmed computer systems around the world about a year ago, said Bill Pollack, spokesman for the CERT Coordination Center in Pittsburgh, a government-chartered computer security team.

But the new virus, which uses the Outlook e-mail program from Microsoft to spread, also may infect other types of files stored on desktop computers and network servers, CERT reported on its telephone hotline. According to other reports, the virus may rename or damage those files.

By midday Eastern time, a virus scanning system provided on the Internet by the Trend Micro computer security company had already detected more than 500,000 infected computer files around the world, including more than 350,000 in the United States.

In Britain, about 30 percent of company e-mail systems were brought down by the virus, according to Network Associates, another computer security firm. In Sweden, the tally was 80 percent.

Much like Melissa, the ``love bug'' spreads by infiltrating a computer user's address book and sending copies of itself to that person's contacts. However, the new virus also seemed to be using instant messaging or ``Internet chat'' systems such as ICQ to spread, Computer Associates reported.

The virus appeared in Hong Kong late in the afternoon, spreading throughout e-mail systems once a user opened one of the contaminated messages. It later moved into European parliamentary houses and through the high-tech systems of big companies and financial traders.

``I have to tell you that, sadly, this affectionate greeting contains a virus which has immobilized the House's internal communication system,'' said Margaret Beckett, leader of Britain's House of Commons. ``This means that no member can receive e-mails from outside, nor indeed can we communicate with each other by e-mail.''

In the United States, the ``love bug'' shut down the Florida Lottery's e-mail system, said lottery spokesman Leo DiBenigno. The lottery also had problems with its Web site, but those were determined to be unrelated to the virus.

In Asia, Dow Jones Newswires and the Asian Wall Street Journal were among the victims. The bug affected only e-mail and did not prevent Dow Jones Newswires from distributing financial information to traders. The Asian Wall Street Journal would have no problems publishing, officials there said.

But the e-mail systems went wild.

``It crashed all the computers,'' said Daphne Ghesquiere, a Dow Jones spokeswoman in Hong Kong. ``You get the message and the topic says ILOVEYOU, and I was among the stupid ones to open it. I got about five at one time and I was suspicious, but one was from Dow Jones Newswires, so I opened it.''

Once the message was opened, Ghesquiere said, it began sending the virus to other e-mail addresses within the Dow Jones computers, blocking people's ability to send and receive e-mail. Victims sometimes received dozens of e-mails, all contaminated.

``I have no idea how it got through the firewall,'' Ghesquiere said. ``It's supposed to be protected.''

The virus posed its biggest threat to corporate users, because it apparently had the ability to spread to the first 300 e-mail addresses in affected accounts, virus expert Ross Wilson said.

``It's not pretty,'' said Wilson, the Singapore-based Southeast Asia director of Symantec, a U.S.-based company that makes anti-virus software. ``It's got the capability of spreading very, very quickly.''

In Denmark, the parliament, telecom company Tele Danmark, channel TV2 and the Environment and Energy Ministry were all affected starting this morning.

``We have no clue how it got in,'' said Hugo Praestegaard of the Environment and Energy Ministry.

The virus hit the Swiss federal government computer network late in the morning, said Claudio Frigerio of the Federal Office for Information Technology in Bern. The system was switched off immediately to stop the virus from spreading.

Bank, hospital and national television e-mail networks in Switzerland were also affected, Frigerio said.
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