Good News About Melissa

You’re probably wondering about that headline. But there is good news today concerning the Melissa virus.

Melissa was the first virus of the year directed, not at individual computers, but at the Net itself. And, the Net has responded well to it.

While most computer viruses are designed to cause damage to hard drives or files, the core of the Melissa virus was a software routine that searched Microsoft Outlook Express address books and e-mailed the top 50 names on those lists with new copies of the virus. The damage, in other words, was in the propagation of the virus, not the virus itself. It was, in essence, a gigantic chain letter.

In the wake of the outbreak, there was massive publicity — online and offline — warning users of the virus’ dangers, and telling people how to get rid of it. Despite the fact my PC wasn’t hit, I was called by CBS Radio March 29. I gave them my usual spiel for how to deal with Word-based viruses, using the experience of an attack I’d suffered a few weeks before.

But there’s more good news. Because the whole community considered this virus dangerous, there was a great publicity premium to be paid for reporters who would investigate the virus and point the FBI toward its author. Ziff-Davis, Salon and even the New York Post offered insight into it.

The result of all this publicity was that Melissa did much less damage than it could have, and that its author probably thought it should have. There’s a large and growing infrastructure of law enforcement, software security firms, media and corporate users dedicated to fighting computer viruses, and it’s doing its job. Just as a Neighborhood Watch can work with police and reduce crime, so the Internet community is banding together to protect itself — and your Web store.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

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