Thousands of users were hit by the Melissa Word 97 Macro virus yesterday, resulting in many companies actually shutting down their entire mail systems for the day.
Microsoft, Intel and Lucent all closed their mail systems down yesterday as the virus spread rapidly throughout the US over the weekend and began appearing rapidly in European mail boxes on Monday.
According to Alex Shipp, virus technologist at Internet service company Star, thousands of UK companies were affected by Melissa yesterday.
"We had around 135 instances yesterday. However, today we've had only three. This would suggest that many companies have shut down their mail servers to deal with the problem," he said.
In the US, authorities were so worried about the proliferation of the virus that a division fo the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the National Infrastructure Protection Centre (NIPC), issued an official warning.
NIPC director Michael Vatis commented: "Email users have the ability to significantly change the outcome of this incident. I urge email users to exercise caution when reading their email for the next few days and to bring unusual messages to the attention of their system administrator."
"The transmission of a virus is a criminal matter and the FBI is investigating," he added.
However, the FBI does not appear to have found the virus' author.
Ian Whalley, senior programmer at UK anti-virus vendor Sophos, said that although the FBI has discovered which AOL account the virus was sent from, they are no nearer finding the culprit.
"The owner of the account was questioned by the FBI and it is probably not him. It is more likely that someone borrowed his account after stealing his password," he said.
Whalley added that although virus writers typically find it very difficult to keep quiet about their antics, they almost always use alternative names and are very hard to trace. However, the FBI is continuing its investigation.
"I can imagine there's a lot of companies wanting a comeback on this," said Whalley.
Companies may be even more inclined to hunt down perpatrators as new versions of the Melissa virus began appearing in emails today. (see earlier story)
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