Melissa virus

David Smith got 20 months in prison and $5,000 in fines for the virus. Small price to pay for an estimated $80 mn in damages.

india Updated: Dec 09, 2003 21:10 IST

Computer programmer David Smith, 31, rose to international notoriety when he was arrested for creating the Melissa computer virus.

Smith, a resident of Aberdeen Township, New Jersey, was arrested after the FBI launched the largest Internet man-hunt ever. He was finally tracked down with the help of America Online and by traced phone calls.

Smith pleaded guilty to causing $80 million in damages to North American computer users. He was sentenced to 20 months in prison and paid $5,000 in fines for his crime, making him one of the first person prosecuted for spreading a computer virus.

In his confession, Smith claimed he named the virus Melissa after a Florida stripper he once knew. Also he claimed Melissa virus was not designed to destroy data. Nevertheless, its cost to business and society in terms of lost productivity was enormous.

The virus infected computers when users received a particular e-mail and opened a Word document attached to it.

The e-mail was headed: "Important Message From (User Name)" and contained the sentence: "Here is that document you asked for...don't show anyone else ;-)." The attachment was usually called list.doc.

If the user launched the document, his computer became infected, although the worst thing that could happen apparently was if it was launched when the day equaled the minute value ... such as 29 minutes past on the 29th, the following message appeared:

"Twenty-two points, plus triple-word-score, plus 50 points for using all my letters. Game's over. I'm outta here."

The quote was from Bart of The Simpsons cartoon show, who invented the word Kwyjibo to describe a North American ape or his father Homer in a Scrabble-playing episode.

When the document attachment was launched, a programme was created which replicated the e-mail and sent it to the first 50 addresses in the user's Outlook Address Book.

It has been estimated that the virus infected more than a million computers.

First Published: Dec 08, 2003 13:08 IST