Catching Up with the Melissa Virus

It was early spring 1999. The Nasdaq was soaring. Three sentences on a cocktail napkin could nab $30 million in venture capital. And Melissa became an overnight sensation, an Internet starlet and pioneer. Melissa brought the underground virus scene to the mainstream. She brashly took any old Word file and forwarded it to 50 people in your Outlook address book, appending her viral payload.

But Melissa's stay at the top of the virus charts was brief. Within six months of making it onto CNN and Page One of The New York Times, Melissa found herself out of the spotlight and out of work. A new generation of viruses, tantalizing the public with Anna Kournikova and J.Lo, won the hearts and hard drives of the masses. Meanwhile, Melissa went from starlet to has-been.

Though Melissa is mostly forgotten by a world long since immunized against her charms, CSO tracked her down, residing on a 6-year-old PC, sold on eBay for $11 last year to a man who gave it to his 81-year-old granny who uses it as a calculator. When we found her, Melissa was still trying to forward infected Word files, but without much successthe computer's no longer connected to the Internet.CSO: How have you survived the past four years?Melissa: I find ways. I get by. I look for those fools who can't help but click on an attachment. Sometimes, I'll set up in some PC in the Third World, where there's plenty of Windows 95 and Office 97. I'll forward files 50 or 100, heck, 1,000 times. And maybe one or two get through. Don't pity me. I'm not pathetic. I'm a survivor!Do you miss the spotlight?Nah. [Swigs from bottle inside a paper bag.] It's not the same anymore. I don't want any part of the current scene. All these knock-off viruses are so derivative. Anna Kournikova naked? Please. Code Red? Pssshthth! Cocktail viruses? [Waves bottle.] 7&7, now that's what I call a "blended threat."

They owe all their success to me. You write that down. There's been what, 80,000 or so viruses since then? But [points at herself defiantly] they remember my name. Who'll remember Kakworm in five years? No one!Speaking of Kakworm, also a Class of '99 virus, it is still found infecting computers now and again.No kidding. Where? Can you hook me up with that gig?And Funlove, from the Class of '01, reinvented herself as a virus on a Powerpuff Girls DVD.[Hyperventilating.] Funlove was nothing without me! That DVD job was supposed to go to me, but that second-rate worm stole it.

[Pulls paper bag off bottle, breathes into it.] But you know what? It's better this way. Melissa? She never sold out. Melissa stayed true to her artistic integrity. Melissa is an original. She'll be in the history booksor at least security books written by consultants. I've heard rumors that a few boot-sector virusesyou know those old ones that spread by floppy disks?are still in circulation. Those are the kinds of viruses I want to hang out with. Boot sectors on floppies. I give them props. That's old school right there.

Do you feel responsible for the computer virus epidemic, which has periodically disabled massive numbers of computers worldwide, affected human productivity and caused billions of dollars in untold damage?

Uh, hello! Ever heard of a patch, you morons?

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

Get the best of CSO ... delivered. Sign up for our FREE email newsletters!