Global Computer Virus Highlights the Annoying Side of Internet Age ; 'I Love You' Bug Disrupts E-Mail from Beijing to Washington

Article excerpt

In today's tech-heavy world, everybody's heard of computer viruses. But phone viruses? Refrigerator viruses?

Get ready for the annoying side of the Internet Age. As Web connectivity is built into more and more devices - even food- ordering fridges - more aspects of our lives will be vulnerable to destructive computer hackers, say experts.

Yesterday's explosive spread of the so-called "I Love You" virus shows how damaging Internet-delivered corrupt code can be. Though the "Love" incident hit only personal computers, mobile phones and hand-held computing devices will likely be the next targets of such attacks, according to software security executives.

In the post-PC age, eternal vigilance will be the price of data liberty.

"The moral of the story is that there's always someone who wants to spoil the fun for the rest of us," says Mikko Hypponen, manager of anti-virus research at F-Secure Corp. in Finland. "There's always someone who wants to do stupid things like this."

In the old days of hacker attacks, viruses were spread by the passing of diskettes carrying infected programs, or by the unknowing downloading of software that contained corrupt code.

Viruses thus traveled relatively slowly. Few computer users loaded new software on their machines every day.

But the Internet - and especially its use for e-mail - has in recent years given hackers a much more efficient threat-delivery device. The wake-up call was Melissa, a worm of a program that traveled quickly around the globe last year.

Named for a Florida exotic dancer, Melissa changed the rules of computer-security engagement. It entered into computers as an e- mail. If a user opened a document attached to the e-mail, Melissa secretly wormed its way into e-mail program software, and automatically sent itself to the first 50 people listed in the user's personal e-mail address book.

The sheer number of automatically-generated messages zipping back- and-forth caused many businesses e-mail systems to crash.

Yet yesterday's "I Love You" attack was an order of magnitude worse.

The virus first surfaced in Asia. …