Feds on virus alert

At least 14 government agencies and Congress today confirmed that a computer virus has infected thousands of unclassified government computers and has forced some organizations to temporarily shut down their systems.

The virus, known by the names "ILOVEYOU" or "love letter," hit 14 agencies, including the Census Bureau, the CIA, the Defense Department, the Education Department, the National Institutes of Health, the Small Business Administration, NASA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the State Department, Congress and others [see complete list of agencies affected by the virus].

The virus is similar to the notorious Melissa virus that plagued networks last year. It arrives as an e-mail attachment and uses the recipient's e-mail address book to send itself to potentially thousands of other systems.

Although the source of the virus remains a mystery, reports of network infections have come in from Hong Kong, the Philippines, the United Kingdom and Sweden. Sources said the virus hit at least 80 percent of Swedish systems and 30 percent of British systems, including the House of Commons.

Jeff Carpenter, senior Internet security technologist at the Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Center said that as of 12:30 p.m. today, the center had received more than 180 reports of the virus affecting more than 270,000 computers attached to the Internet. "As we have continued to receive reports throughout this afternoon, the actual number of reports and computers involved is higher," he said.

Late Thursday, a variant of the "ILOVEYOU" virus began circulating, with the subject line of the e-mail changed to "joke" or "Fwd: joke" and the attachment changed to "Very Funny.vbs." Antivirus companies said they were working on a fix for the new version of the virus.

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