An ESC! Magazine Editorial
March 31, 1999
'Melissa' Ruined It for the Rest of Us
by Michael R. Potter
The Internet took a big hit this week. The trust wall built up by the legions of Internet users over the last few years was torn down and destroyed in less than one day on March 29, 1999. How? Melissa struck.
Before I get all the way up on my soapbox, let me give you a little background...
A Little Background
For the original Melissa virus to work, several conditions need to be met first: You must be running a Windows based computer. You must be using Microsoft Outlook for e-mail (not Outlook Express). You must be using your address book in Outlook. When you receive an e-mail message containing the virus as a Word document attachment, you must open that document in Word and allow the macro code to run.
It is important to note that there are now a number of Melissa variants out there which are not as specific about the requirements of your system before they trigger and cause their "damage". Many of the variants will now work through any e-mail program.
What Can You Do?
First, NEVER open an attachment directly from your e-mail program. This goes for both EXE (executable) and DOC (Word Document) attachments. ALWAYS save your attachments to a temporary folder on your system first. Then SCAN your temporary folder for viruses using an up to date virus checker like Norton AntiVirus. Don't have a virus checker? GET ONE NOW and UPDATE IT WEEKLY. If you are having trouble connecting to your particular virus manufacturer's web site, you could alternatively go to ZDNet's Hotfiles web site: http://www.hotfiles.com. They have the latest updates for most of the major anti virus packages.
Second, if you are opening a document which was e-mailed to you, NEVER allow the macros to run when Microsoft Word asks you if you'd like to run them.
Finally, ask people to send you attachments in "safe" formats like ASCII (plain text) or RTF (Rich Text Format). Or better yet, embed the text of their document directly within the e-mail message. This avoids attachments altogether.
The Soapbox: Why Am I Bothered By All This?
Keep in mind that Melissa is not commonly thought of as a destructive virus because it doesn't harm your hard drive or your files in any way. It simply reproduces itself over and over. However, I believe it should be thought of as destructive since the biggest thing it destroys is the trust you've worked hard to establish amongst friends, family, business associates and co-workers.
No longer can anyone trust that the document they are receiving is harmless. They can no longer trust you!
Is All Lost?
Thanks for listening!
Michael R. Potter