Heartless bug has ;br; ‘love’ bytes for computers

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 5, 2000

The e-mail arrives with a message of love; the person who opens the attached file is soon sending out an SOS.

Friday, May 05, 2000

The e-mail arrives with a message of love; the person who opens the attached file is soon sending out an SOS.

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The lovebug virus, as it has been dubbed, apparently began in the Philippines and quickly raced around the globe, shutting down e-mail systems and deleting files where it went. It arrives as an e-mail with "ILOVEYOU" in the subject line, and an attachment named LOVE-LETTER-FOR-YOU.TXT.vbs. It came from people recipients knew, because it proliferates by kidnapping address books from affected computers and sending copies of itself out to everyone in the address book.

Once in the system of a computer, the virus begins deleting image and sound files – among them those ending with .jpg or .mp3 suffixes.

The Mayo Clinic in Rochester was particularly hard hit, shutting down its e-mail system voluntarily when the virus was detected in the system.

"We weren’t affected here in Austin, really," explained Tami Oldfather, spokeswoman for Austin Medical Center, a part of Mayo Health Systems. "I do know they had problems, very severe ones, in Rochester."

The virus targets users of an e-mail program called Microsoft Outlook Express, and seems to affect only those on Windows 98 and later systems. Macintoshes and Unix systems seem to be immune. Outlook Express is the most common e-mail utility in the world, however.

More threatening than the deletion of files is what the virus has done to e-mail servers around the world – Britain’s House of Commons lost its e-mail, as did the U.S. Senate, and thousands of businesses.

Wayne Goodnature of PST Computing in Austin said viruses like this are far past the amusing or annoying stage.

"The Internet may be fun to a lot of people, but to the rest of us, this is business," he said. "This is annoying to the average user of the Internet. To businesses that rely on the Internet, it’s devastating."

Goodnature said he finds it disturbing that anyone, anywhere in the world with the know-how can bring the Internet to its knees.

"I don’t remember anything in my lifetime except war that can affect the infrastructure of life and business the way this can," Goodnature said.

Dustin Adamson, an employee at PST, said he fielded several calls from local businesses that received the e-mail, but had not opened the attachment.

"People should know better by now," Adamson said. "If you don’t have a virus-scanning utility, you shouldn’t open attachments."

He acknowledged, however, that the virus-software companies of the world had to hastily write patches to scan for and eliminate the lovebug virus this morning. Users need to visit the Web sites of those companies to download the patch.

"The problem with that," Goodnature sighed, "is that a lot of these people don’t know how to download a patch. … They end up needing to come to see us, and if you didn’t make a backup of that deleted file, it’s gone. And coming to see a computer repair specialist for a virus isn’t cheap."

Theresa Tucker with Southern Minnesota Internet Group said that in reviewing SMIG’s logs, they hadn’t seen a whole lot of the file coming through their e-mail servers, but they were aware of the problem. Some Internet service providers have been writing filters to get rid of the pesky e-mail before it could even travel through their e-mail servers, she said.

"Some (providers) have been turning their servers off," Tucker noted.