‘Love’ Virus Damage Could Top $1B

According to one security expert, the damage wrought by the so-called “I Love You” virus has already totaled nearly $100 million (US$) worldwide, and clones could push the figure over $1 billion by Monday morning.

“We predict at least a dozen copycats within the next 24 hours,” ICSA.net security expert Peter Tibbett said Friday morning. “There’ll be hundreds of these, maybe thousands.”

The virus affected stock brokerages, food companies, media, auto and technology giants, as well as government agencies, universities and medical institutions worldwide. Experts estimate it may have hit as many as tens of millions of computers, as compared with last year’s Melissa virus, which affected about 300,000 computers in the U.S. only.

The new virus reportedly spread twice as fast as Melissa in its first ten hours, affecting an estimated 60 to 80 percent of U.S. companies.

“This is Melissa on steroids,” commented Simon Perry, vice-president of Computer Associates. “We’re seeing major impacts affecting Fortune 100 companies.”

FBI Investigates

The virus, which targets computers running on Microsoft’s Windows operating system, triggered a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) probe. By Thursday afternoon, the National Infrastructure Protection Center had uncovered clues within the virus code that indicate it may have originated in the Philippines.

It appears to attack the Outlook e-mail program and the Internet Explorer browser, both made by Microsoft.

The payload cleverly arrives in an e-mail message titled “I Love You,” with instructions asking the user to “kindly check the attached LOVELETTER coming from me.” Once the attachment is opened, the virus rapidly infiltrates the user’s computer address book and sends copies of itself to the contacts listed.

In addition to overwhelming computer networks with a large volume of e-mail messages, the virus directly affects some of the most widely used items on the Internet, destroying digital photographs and hiding music files stored with MP3 technology.

Virus Rocks Corporate World

On the corporate level, the virus was successful in bringing some levels of business to a screeching halt. At Ford Motor Company, one of the corporations hit earliest and hardest, security officials kept the e-mail system offline for most of the day on Thursday. Similarly, AT&T Corporation shut down its e-mail system.

General Motors was spared the wrath of the Love Bug because it does not use the Outlook program.

However, stock brokerages found themselves significantly slowed down by the virus, since companies such as Merrill Lynch & Company routinely use e-mail to communicate with clients and co-workers.

Governments Affected

Meanwhile, the virus directly affected several U.S. government agencies, as well as various governments throughout the world.

U.S. Defense Department spokesman Ken Bacon, while conceding that the virus affected the Pentagon’s computers, said, “We have found absolutely no evidence that this has infected classified computer programs.” CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said the impact on the agency’s computers was “negligible.”

As for the White House, spokesman Jack Siewert said, “It hasn’t affected operations at the White House. “There have been some reports around the government about it. The White House has taken some measures to secure its system. Our cybersecurity people are on top of it.”

Still, the U.S. government is not taking any chances. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said once the virus was found in many of its servers early Thursday steps were taken to “shut off our connection with the outside world.”

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