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From the Press - Cyber Crime

Melissa virus creator pleads guilty
Thursday, 9 December, 1999, 23:19 GMT


Mr Smith said he knew what he was doing in creating Melissa

A computer programmer in the United States has admitted creating an e-mail virus which disrupted the operations of thousands of companies and government agencies around the world.

The virus known as Melissa - believed to have been named after a Florida stripper its creator knew - caused more than $80m in damage after it was launched in March.

The programmer, David Smith, faces up to 10 years in jail and a substantial fine.

David Smith told the New Jersey court he purposefully broke into systems and knew what he was doing.

'Guilty'

Mr Smith, 31, pleaded guilty to a state charge of computer theft, and later to a federal charge of damaging a computer program.

I did not expect or anticipate the amount of damage that took place.
David Smith

In the federal charge, both sides acknowledged that the damage was greater than $80m.

Mr Smith said in a statement: "I did not expect or anticipate the amount of damage that took place ... I had no idea there would be such profound consequences to others.

"In fact, I included features designed to prevent substantial damage."

Computers became infected 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.

High score

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

I included features designed to prevent substantial damage.
David Smith

"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.

Graver implications of the virus were for company and Web servers carrying the huge volumes of e-mail being created.

When the document attachment was launched, a program was created which replicated the e-mail and sent it to the first 50 addresses in the Global Address Book of users running Microsoft's Outlook personal organiser.

Microsoft, Network Associates and other anti-virus and computer security companies issued warnings and supplied fixes for Melissa.

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


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