NEW YORK (AP) -- A computer virus purported to be an electronic photo of Anna Kournikova overwhelmed e-mail servers throughout Europe and North America on Monday.
The virus slowed down e-mail systems and forced some companies to shut down their e-mail altogether while they cleaned out the rogue program. Security experts said the virus does not permanently damage computers.
Within a few hours, the virus had managed to spread almost as rapidly as last May's "I Love You" virus, which caused tens of millions of dollars in damage worldwide. More computers could be infected on Tuesday in Asia.
"Everybody and their brother and sister in law are infected with this thing," said David Perry, director of public education at Trend Micro Inc. "Last year, everybody wanted to be loved.
Apparently many people want to see a JPEG (picture) of Anna Kournikova."
The virus, which appears to have originated in Europe, comes as an attachment named "AnnaKournikova.jpg.vbs" and carries the message "Hi: Check This!" But it does not actually contain a photo of the tennis star.
Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos Anti-Virus Inc., said the virus writer skillfully exploited Kournikova's sex appeal and "the average fantasy of the guy who sits in front of the computer terminal."
The virus can automatically send copies of itself to everyone on a recipient's address book. It spreads primarily through Microsoft Outlook e-mail software on Windows computers.
Many anti-virus companies developed software updates to filter out the new virus.
Microsoft spokesman Adam Sohn said the company released a security update in June, shortly after the "I Love You" virus, that generates a warning any time a computer program attempts to access Outlook's address book.
Vincent Weafer, director of the Symantec Anti-Virus Research Center, partly attributed the virus's spread to timing.
"Close to Valentine's Day, anything novel or different like this will get people's attention more than normal," he said.
"They are expecting messages from friends, maybe pictures of each other or cards. People lower their guards."
------ On the Net: F-Secure: http://www.fsecure.com/virus-info Microsoft: http://www.microsoft.com