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Security firm warns of lurking 'joke' virus

By HIL ANDERSON

LOS ANGELES, May 4 -- Computer users around the world found they had been looking for love in all the wrong places as they discovered their e-mails with the alluring greeting "I Love You" contained a virus that swept across the Internet Thursday.

The so-called "Love Bug" virus, which is believed to have originated in the Philippines, has turned up in personal e-mail accounts and in the systems of major corporations and government agencies in the United States and abroad.

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The subject line on the e-mails, which says, "I love you," or else instructs the recipient to open a "love letter," has apparently been enough to prompt readers, like the proverbial lemmings, to open the booby-trapped attachment and unleash the virus. The attachment has been widely reported to use "LOVE-LETTER-FOR-YOU.TXT.vbs".

The virus, the latest so-called basic script-based worm virus to come attached to an e-mail, latches onto the address book program of the victim's e-mail system and mails itself to everyone in the hapless sender's queue using Microsoft's Outlook e-mail software program.

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"This worm represents a high threat to all e-businesses and home users due to its ability to completely flood e-mail networks," said Simon Perry, vice president for security solutions at Computer Associates International. "Despite the e-mail's tempting nature, we advise all clients to avoid opening e-mail attachments with the subject line 'ILOVEYOU' and for all computer users to immediately update their anti-virus software."

The Islandia, New York company warned Thursday night that another worm virus disguised as an innocent joke being passed on by a friend was starting to show up in the Internet.

The virus has the subject line "fwd: Joke," and an attached file called "Very Funny.vbs." Its effects are likely similar to the unwelcome love letter that caused Thursday's aggravation.

"Users should not open any email with the subject 'fwd: Joke' and should immediately delete them," Computer Associates said.

The Love Bug virus is similar to the Melissa virus that infected scores of computers in the United States last year, but is not the same as the "denial-of-service" programs that knocked out major e-commerce sites earlier this year.

"It's not new technology," UCLA computer science professor Peter Reiher told United Press International. "Similar kinds of worms have popped up over the past year or so, though this one seems more effective and destructive than many others."

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Reiher saw the Love Bug as more of pest than a threat to Internet security such as a virus that deletes hard-drive files, or a denial of service attack that shuts down an Internet service provider.

"For a new, struggling business, losing a day's revenues is a big deal," he said. "It can get a lot worse, and there's nothing in the underlying infrastructure of the Internet to prevent it."

The FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center, the government's clearinghouse for virus information, said in a release that "I love you" attachments should be deleted, both from inboxes and "deleted items" files.

"Anti-virus software vendors are currently working on inoculation software," the FBI said. "Please consult your anti-virus software website for updated information and inoculations."

The warnings have come too late for many computer users. Media reports indicate the virus was launched in Asia on Thursday morning and with lightning speed tore through systems in Europe and the U.S. Media reports indicated the virus has hit everything from Asian banks to Britain's House of Commons and the U.S. federal government. The virus can block a computer from giving or receiving e-mail or can crash the computer completely.

The virus seems to be especially destructive in completely deleting photo and music files from radio stations, media outlets, newspapers and advertising firms.

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In the United States, the computer virus crippled internal communications systems in the U.S. Congress, the Pentagon, the Federal Reserve, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Defense Department as well as state legislatures, state agencies, state lottery systems, state university systems and private businesses.

The Pentagon confirmed that its Computer Security Response Team believes the virus did originate in the Philippines.

"We do not love the 'love bug' virus," Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said. "But we don't believe this has had a major impact."

The computer bug also showed up at Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate campaign headquarters in New York City.

Lily Whiteman, a federal worker in Washington, said the virus was the talk of the nation's capitol.

"I received an e-mail from someone at my job saying that a new virus has hit several government agencies really bad," Whiteman told UPI. "Those bureaucrats must really be egomaniacs if they think someone is seriously going to send them an 'I Love You' e-mail."

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