ad info
   personal technology

 custom news
 Headline News brief
 daily almanac
 CNN networks
 CNN programs
 on-air transcripts
 news quiz

CNN Websites
 video on demand
 video archive
 audio on demand
 news email services
 free email accounts
 desktop headlines

 message boards




Man charged with unleashing 'Melissa' computer virus


CNN's Gary Tuchman looks at the arrest of Smith
Windows Media 28K 80K
In-Depth Special: Insurgency on the Internet

Virus variants continue to multiply

For more computing stories
Listen to Bubb describe how the police traced the virus to Smith

432K/35 sec. AIFF or WAV sound


April 2, 1999
Web posted at: 9:29 p.m. EST (0229 GMT)

TRENTON, New Jersey (CNN) -- A 30-year-old man launched the e-mail computer virus known as "Melissa" just to see if it would work, state and federal authorities alleged Friday.

David L. Smith was arrested Thursday night by New Jersey state police and was released on $100,000 bail Friday, state Attorney General Peter Verniero said. His office said the virus was named after a topless dancer from Florida.

The virus caused infected computers to fire off dozens of messages to friends and colleagues, temporarily clogging e-mail systems.

"It is supposed on this part that the motive was to see if he could achieve what he did achieve," Verniero said.

A tip from an America Online lawyer led investigators to Smith, Verniero said. Authorities said Smith pirated an AOL user's account to launch the virus from his apartment.

"With that information, we were in a position to identify specific places where access was gained to the Internet," New Jersey Deputy Attorney General Christopher Bubb said. "From there, we were able to trace it back to a specific telephone line."

Smith, a network programmer for an unidentified company, was being held at the Monmouth County Jail. He was charged with interrupting and conspiracy to interrupt public communication and with attempts to commit those offenses.

Interfering with public communication carries a sentence of five to 10 years in prison and up to a $150,000 fine, Verniero said. Smith also is charged with theft of computer services.

A winking smiley face

Melissa appeared on March 26, a Friday, and spread rapidly around the world over the weekend, swamping the e-mail systems of thousands of computers -- including those at government agencies.

Several anti-virus software makers posted patches on their Web sites that detect and reject the Melissa virus.

It came in the form of an e-mail, usually containing the subject line "Important Message," and appeared to be from a friend or colleague.

The body of the e-mail message said, "Here is that document you asked for ... don't show it to anyone else" with a winking smiley face formed by the punctuation marks ;-).

Attached to the message was a document file. If the user opened that file, the virus dug into the user's address book and sent infected documents to the first 50 addresses.

A 'consumer crime'

Verniero described the Melissa virus as a "consumer crime."

"This is the kind of virus that could wreak havoc on state government, federal government and private users," he said. "It tampers with everyday consumers and their personal lives."

New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman praised state authorities' cooperation with the FBI. Their work together, Whitman said, "has literally, we believe, avoided the spread of this very malicious virus to personal computers throughout ... the world."

"Melissa virus"

Melissa takes down Marine Corps e-mail
March 31, 1999
'Melissa' mutates, becomes resistant to patch
March 30, 1999

Federal Bureau of Investigation
   •FBI - Awareness of National Security Issues and Response (ANSIR) Program
New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety: Attorney General's Office
Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.

Enter keyword(s)   go    help

Back to the top   © 2001 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.