Melissa spreads virus through innocuous e-mail attachments

The Melissa virus exploits a vulnerability in Microsoft Outlook, Word 97 and Word 2000.
The virus is transmitted via an attachment to innocuous e-mail messages with a subject
line that starts “Important message from … ”

Melissa activates when a user opens the infected document. The virus then executes a
command that lowers the security settings in the program. With the security turned off,
the application software will recognize and execute macro commands.

A macro is a keyboard shortcut programmed by users, which with a keystroke
automatically types in frequently used words. It is the macro language that lets the virus
find a mail program and send itself out to users.

The virus spreads by sending e-mail messages containing the infected documents to
addresses contained in the victims’ e- mail address books.

“The Melissa virus apparently does not create any other damage in the sense of
deleting or stealing files,” said Rob Kolstad, a staff member of the SANS Institute
in Bethesda, Md.

“However, when the smokes clears, the cost of dealing with Melissa will be
measured in the millions of dollars,” he said.

Users can go to the Federal Computer Incident Response Capability’s Web site at or the Energy Department’s Computer Incident Advisory Capability site
at to find more information about the Melissa virus.

—John Breeden II and Frank Tiboni

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