Jane Wakefield: Have you caught the love bug?

It was a day of drama Thursday as love swept through the nation, sweeping IT departments, and even plummy ministers in its wake. Jane Wakefield provides her own inimitable take on the day Love got a bad name

It has long been said that the three most dangerous words in the English language are "I love you" and for computer users across Europe and the States that was proved correct Thursday.

Unsolicited email is usually dull, promising miracle diets or hair growth cures so to find a message saying "I love you", sitting in your inbox is enough to soften even the hardest of corporate hearts. Only this particular missive carried a love letter attachment designed to destroy your hard drive and is best left unopened.

It seems though that Brits are desperate for love -- the latest estimates suggest that up to 10 percent of us opened the dodgy love letter, causing havoc in government departments, hospitals, banks and firms up and down the country. Anti-virus firm MessageLabs describes it as "the most destructive virus ever" and it would be pretty safe to assume that working in an IT department is not the best place in the world to be Friday morning.

I took a look at the virus, described by one alleged expert as "beautiful" and failed to be moved by it. But if that is what turns you on then ZDNet has the technical details about how it works and what it does.

Basically it noses around in Microsoft Outlook's global address book sending itself to every one of the contacts. Oh, and just for good measure it destroys any files with extensions .vbs, .vbe, .js, .jse, .css, .wsh, .sct, .hta, .jpg, .jpeg .mp3, .mp2 -- that's pictures and music to the uninitiated.

Lucent, Credit Suisse, World Online, IDC, AT&T and a number of NHS departments were among the first casualties of the lovebug as ZDNet's Will Knight broke the first story to the world just after 10am. Updates followed throughout the day.

Ministers were briefly left speechless as the House of Commons shut down its email system. A slightly bemused spokesman for the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) seemed unaware of how the virus had found its way into the system or what damage it had done. Which is slightly worrying considering the department is the government's flagship for all things techie. But it will come as no surprise to those of us who follow the government's botched attempts to keep up to date with the Internet.

And love was definitely in the air in Parliament as one plummy politician decided to warn the Leader of the House of Commons, Margaret Beckett, that she may receive a message saying I love you. She hadn't apparently. Not surprisingly Anne Widdecombe was unavailable to comment on whether she has received any love letters recently.

So a day of chaos in computerland, but one of glee for the anti-virus firms. Cures have been written and the marketeers of Symantec and Computer Associates et al, trip over their hyperboles to come up with the most deadly description of the lovebug.

The average user might question the speed with which the anti-virus firms have responded. After all, the virus has spread like wildfire and the solution has definitely been bringing up the rear. Not so much anti-virus as post-virus in fact. Of course the anti-virus firms will claim that they can only create a fix once the bug is out and about, but for those affected by Thursday's outbreak that explanation may be wearing a bit thin. ZDNet will be looking at the consequences of the lovebug and finding out who is to blame throughout the day Friday.

Those interested in the affairs of the heart, from Shakespeare to Claire Rayner, have pointed out that those three little words I love you should never be over-used for fear of watering down their impact. That advice seems a little redundant in the light of today's events so I have only one thing to say...

I LOVE YOU ALL!!!

Would you prosecute British Gas for making it possible to put your head in the oven and turn the gas on? Chris Long is taking no prisoners with this one, he accuses users who got the ILOVEYOU virus of having the IQ equivilent to a pin mould.

Go to the TalkBack forums to say your piece and read others thoughts and brushes with the ILOVEYOU virus.

Have you been infected by the virus? Tell the Mailroom. And read what others have said.

Go to our ILOVEYOU Special Report

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