Creator of ``Melissa'' virus, which did millions of dollars of damage, sentenced to 20 months

Wednesday, May 1st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ The creator of the ``Melissa'' virus was sentenced Wednesday to 20 months in federal prison for causing millions of dollars of damage by disrupting e-mail systems worldwide in 1999.

David L. Smith, 33, pleaded guilty in December 1999 to a state charge of computer theft and to a federal charge of sending a damaging computer program. In the federal plea, both sides agreed the damage was greater than $80 million.

Smith is believed to be among the first people ever prosecuted for creating a computer virus. In court Wednesday, he called the act a ``colossal mistake.''

The Melissa virus, which struck in March 1999, was disguised as an e-mail marked ``important message'' from a friend or colleague. It caused computers to send 50 additional infected messages. The volume of messages generated slowed some systems to a crawl.

Smith could have faced up to five years in prison, but prosecutors suggested a term of about two years, saying he had given authorities extensive assistance in thwarting other virus creators. He was also fined $5,000 by U.S. District Judge Joseph A. Greenaway Jr.

Smith has said he created the virus on computers in his Aberdeen apartment and used a stolen screen name and password to get into America Online.