Melissa-X remains contained

New strain of an old virus is controlled this time around, say antivirus experts

European antivirus specialists report Friday that a new virus based on Melissa has hit a limited number of companies in Europe.

"It looks like it is relatively under control," says Eric Chien, chief researcher at Symantec's Antivirus Research Centre (SARC) in Europe.

Since reports of the virus, dubbed Melissa-X and Melissa 2001, started coming in Thursday, Chien says that Symantec has heard from just ten corporations worldwide, which does not indicate a major outbreak.

Graham Cluley, senior technologist at antivirus company Sophos, says that fewer than 20 of its corporate customers have reported trouble with the new variant of Melissa. "It's certainly not an epidemic on the proportions of the original Melissa," he says.

Network Associates has also received just a few alerts. European product manager Jack Clark says that only 12 reports have come in but adds that that some large corporations in the UK were been affected, which has caused concern.

The original Melissa virus was the most virulent the world had seen when it flared up in April 1999 and caused unprecedented damage.

The new virus comes as a formatted Macintosh Office 2001 file, but can spread to users of Windows Office 97 or 2000. According to virus experts, although Melissa-X is no more harmful than the original version of Melissa, antivirus software must support Microsoft Word 2001 in order to recognise it. This could mean a more complicated update than normal.

"It's more interesting than the average virus," says Cluley. "Users should make sure their vendor supports Word 2001."

Mikko Hypponen, manager of antivirus research at Finnish company F-Secure, says that the virus still has the potential to cause headaches. "The worst effects of this worm are the same as for Melissa versions usually: overloading email servers with huge traffic and sometimes emailing confidential Word documents to a wide audience," he says in a statement.

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