The Melissa virus was a computer virus that was first discovered in 1999. It affected computers running the Microsoft Windows operating system, sending out emails with copies of itself and infecting other systems, including the Microsoft Exchange Server.
Melissa spread quickly, spreading to over one million computers within two weeks of its release. The virus was written by David L. Smith and named after a stripper he had an infatuation with.
The virus caused significant damage to many organizations and businesses around the world, resulting in millions of dollars worth of losses.
What Did the Melissa Virus Do?
The Melissa virus was designed to infect Microsoft Word documents and attach itself to email messages.
The Melissa virus was spread through email as an attachment with a subject line of
"Important Message from [the sender's username]" and a message body that read
"Here is that document you asked for ... don't show anyone else ;-)."
The attachment was supposed to store a list of passwords for different websites. However, the file had a virus in it that copied itself into a Word template used for custom settings and macros. It was commonly called “List.Doc.“
When a recipient opened the attachment, the infecting file was read into the computer’s storage. The virus then used the Visual Basic code to create an Outlook object, which allowed it to access the Outlook Global Address Book of the infected user.
From there, it would read the first 50 names in the address book and send out the same infected document and email to those contacts. If the recipient opened the attachment, the process would repeat, leading to the rapid spread of the virus.
This allowed the virus to spread rapidly, as it could potentially infect hundreds or even thousands of computers in a short period of time.
The Impacts of the Melissa virus
The Melissa virus had a significant impact on businesses and individuals when it first emerged.
It caused around $80 million in damage as it spread rapidly through mailing lists and infected email servers.
In addition to the financial losses, the incident also caused many corporations (over 300 organizations) to shut down their networks for extended periods of time due to overwhelmed server capacities.
This disrupted communication and slowed down productivity for many companies. In addition, some businesses were forced to spend a significant amount of time and resources cleaning up infected computers and restoring lost data.
Although cybersecurity experts were able to contain the spread of the virus, this experience highlighted the importance of prevention, response, and recovery from such attacks.
In the aftermath, the FBI stepped in and took action by apprehending David L. Smith, the creator of the Melissa virus, to prevent the further spread of this virus. With their help, they were able to drastically reduce its destructive effects.
David L. Smith was arrested and sentenced to 20 months in prison and fined $5,000 for his role in creating and distributing the virus.
Despite the efforts of law enforcement and security experts, the Melissa virus continues to circulate to this day, although it is not as widespread as it was in the past.