Network Associates has discovered an e-mail virus similar to the Melissa virus that company officials said they believe is even more dangerous than its predecessor.
Dubbed Papa, the new virus is an Excel virus that sends itself in the same manner as Melissa, but sends itself to the first 60 people in a user's address book compared to 50 with Melissa. In addition, Papa sends an e-mail out every time the virus is activated. Melissa only sends the message the first time it is opened.
This time the subject line claims the message is from "all.net and Fred Cohen". The body of the e-mail, which contains an attached document titled "path.xls", then instructs the user not to disable the macros, which is how the virus is activated.
According to Sal Viveros, group marketing manager for total virus defense at Network Associates, the most disruptive aspect of Papa is the fact that it "pings" an as-yet-undetermined external site to make sure there is an available Internet connection. The practice of pinging is not unusual, but Papa pings so many times that it brings the network down.
The biggest concern from a corporate security standpoint is that any document infected with the virus and then e-mailed to another party is distributed in the same way the Melissa virus is, leaving companies vulnerable to having confidential documents distributed unknowingly.
Viveros believes Papa was written by a different person than the author of Melissa, but that it uses the original virus as a road map. This practice of using similar mechanisms to deliver more destructive payloads is not unusual, noted Viveros, which could mean a string of such similar viruses could be on the way. Variants, however, should be less disruptive because virus-detection vendors know what they are looking for. Network Associates expects to post software for detection and cleaning of the Papa virus by Monday afternoon.
The Melissa virus first sprang up in countless e-mail inboxes around the world on Friday, replicating itself to end-user address books and sending an exhaustive list of pornographic Web sites to everyone therein.
According to Viveros, Melissa is the widest spreading virus he has ever seen, hitting approximately 80 per cent of Network Associates' major customers, which amounts to almost 100 companies. A significant number of those were forced to take their e-mail systems down.
A fix for the Melissa virus is now available from most major anti-virus software vendors.