Melissa was a computer macro virus that infected computers and email gateways via Microsoft Word 97 or 2000 or Microsoft Outlook 97 or 98.
Created by David L. Smith, Melissa first appeared on Usenet in the late 1990s.
At the height of it’s distribution Melissa caused some users and mail clients to be shut down due to the sheer volume of replicated emails that is was sending and receiving via numerous infected systems.
Even major companies, such as Microsoft and Intel, had to temporarily shut down their email servers as they became clogged by the virus.
The Melissa virus arrived in email inboxes in many different forms.
Typically, a message would be entitled as ‘My Pictures’ but there would be no text in the email, though a file was attached.
That file of course was not a picture but the virus and, if opened, it would delete files and send itself onto the first 40 entries it found in the infected machine’s email address book.
Though the Melissa virus can be a problem, many people with newer forms of Word or Outlook have no problem with the worm type virus.
Good antivirus programs can, and did, detect the macro language used by Melissa which was also defeated by newer versions of Word too.
However it should still serve as a good reminder that you should never open email attachments unless you are 100% certain that you trust both the sender and the files that they may have included in their email.
David Smith was eventually caught at the end of 1999 and was amongst the first few individuals to ever be successfully prosecuted for creating a computer virus.
He was sentenced to 10 years in jail and fined $5,000 but this was later reduced in return for his cooperation with authorities.
Smith later went on to work for the FBI, tracking down viruses and those who were writing them.
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