Feds investigate Melissa virus

Federal officials said today said they are looking for the source of a computer virus that affected both government and private-sector systems on Friday.

The virus, nicknamed Melissa Macro Virus, comes in the form of an e-mail attachment. When opened, the e-mail attachment lowers the security settings on Microsoft Word 97 and Word 2000. The virus also propagates itself by using the PC user's e-mail address book to forward itself to other users.

Moreover, the virus may be able to e-mail newly created documents—those made since the infection—to recipients on a user's e-mail address book, raising concerns that sensitive information may be forwarded by the virus.

The virus potentially could overload e-mail servers, causing them to slow down and eventually crash, said Michael Vatis, director of the National Infrastructure Protection Center, an interagency organization that tracks and analyzes electronic threats to the nation's critical systems.

Vatis declined to comment on the extent to which federal systems had been affected and said the investigation was continuing. But because word is getting out about the virus' existence and a fix has been developed, the situation seems to be coming under control, he said. For more information on the Melissa virus, go to www.cert.org.

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