The Melissa Virus

By Justin Shagena and Andrew Sturgeon

Around March 26, 1999 the "Melissa" virus was released in the wild. Melissa soon became one of the fasted spreading computer viruses of the late 1990s.
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Who created the Melissa virus?

The creation of the Melissa virus is credited to David L. Smith, a resident of Aberdeen Township, New Jersey. In order to find the virus's author, the FBI used multiple methods to trace the virus back to Smith. After Smith's identity was confirmed, he was sentenced to a maximum of 40 years in prison, however he was released after 20 months due to a $100,000 bail. Smith's motives for creating the virus are unknown.

How does the virus spread?

The Melissa virus was designed to exploit a feature of Microsoft's Outlook email client. Each time the infected document was opened, it was automatically forwarded to as many as fifty other contacts, without the user's control. This is what allowed the virus to spread so quickly and easily.

What were the effects of the virus?

In many cases, large amounts of emails were sent simultaneously due to the virus's rapid spreading, causing many email servers to crash. Corporations may have been forced to reset entire networks of computers. David L. Smith was fined $480,000 to pay for damages.

How many users were affected?

As many as 100,000 computer users are estimated to have been affected by the Melissa virus.


CNN- "You've got (unwanted) mail"

NY Times- "Melissa virus suspect caught"

CNN- "Massive e-mail virus outbreak spreads like wildfire"