Melissa: Simple facts

OK, we know what it does and who it is aimed at but what should we look out for?
Written by ZDNet UK, Contributor

  • The Melissa virus is a simple Word macro, which is a script for automating tasks within Word documents. It looks like an ordinary mail attachment.
  • It spreads when a user opens up an infected Word 8 or Word 9 document -- in either Office 97 or 2000 -- and executes the macro script. In some cases, however, the virus can even spread automatically among those users who have configured their systems not to not notify them when as macro is launched.
  • The most devious aspect of "Melissa" is how it infects. The macro prompts Microsoft's Outlook e-mail program to send a document to the first 50 addresses in a user's address book, under the subject line "Important Message From" and then the user's name. "Here is the document that you asked for," the text inside the message reads, "Don't show anyone else ;-)."
  • Even people who don't use Outlook are at risk. As long as Outlook is set up to send mail, the infected documents will be sent. In addition, the default Word template -- normal.dot, which acts as the basis of every new document that the user creates -- is infected with the virulent code. Subsequent Word documents created by the user will also contain the virus.
  • The virus is thought to have originally spread through a posting on the alt.sex newsgroup that advertised the accompanying Word document as a list of passwords to various pornographic Web sites. A signature file included in the virus dubbed the nasty code as "Melissa" and identified the author by the handle "Kwyjibo".
  • While the virus spreads extremely quickly, it does little actual damage to user files. Outside of the actions taken to replicate itself, the only other modification made by "Melissa" occur when the current hour equals the current date. For example, at 2:27 p.m. on March 27 the virus will copy the following Bart Simpson quote into the current document: "Twenty-two points, plus triple-word-score, plus fifty points for using all my letters. Game's over. I'm outta here."
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