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Melissa outbreak shows need to remain vigilant about e-mail attachments


The Melissa virus took the Internet and corporate America by storm at the start of the business day last Monday morning.

Virus watchers first got word of the impending outbreak on the previous Friday, and by Monday, Melissa was all over the media -- and the Internet.

Melissa wasn't a typical virus that corrupts or damages data stored on your computer hard drive. Melissa was a bit of coding that was sent as a file attached to an e-mail message.

Reading the e-mail isn't a danger. The "virus" is actually a Word97 macro that is launched if the e-mail recipient double-clicks on the attached file.

Once launched, the Melissa virus immediately goes into action, replicating itself and e-mailing itself out to 50 users whose e-mail addresses are stored on the user's computer.

The average user may not have 50 names in his or her e-mail address book. But in corporations -- where e-mail lists can include hundreds of users -- the virus spread so fast (and generated so many automatic e-mails) it overwhelmed the e-mail computer servers at a number of companies.

Once the 50 e-mail messages were sent, the viruses' work was done.

The virus can attach itself to any Word97 or Word2000 document. Documents written in Word 95 and Word 6 are immune to the virus, according to PC World.

The Melissa virus can only be successfully launched if the recipient has a copy of the Microsoft Outlook e-mail program on his or her computer. Users of the free Microsoft program Outlook Express -- or any other e-mail program -- can receive the virus attachment but can't launch it without Microsoft Word 97 or Word 2000, and Outlook.

Macintosh users have no worries about Melissa. There is not Mac varient of the bug circulating (but don't think it can't happen).

One ZDNet analyst pointed out the factor that makes the Melissa virus so unique is that it didn't target users' computers, but the Internet itself.

Of about 150 Forbes 1000 companies that contacted virus company Network Associates about Melissa, 80 percent said they were infected. One company reported Melissa had spawned 500,000 e-mail messages that were still clogging the company's e-mail system as of Wednesday.

Network Associates, Trend Micro and other virus software firms have posted patches and instructions for repairing and eliminating Melissa on their company Web sites.

PROTECTING YOURSELF. PC World News offers some simple tips to reduce your chances of being a victim of a virus similar to Melissa.

Don't open any e-mail attachments you aren't expecting. If you don't know what it is, don't open it. Read the e-mail and be sure it's legitimate.

Disable automatic macro execution in Word 97 (select Tools, Options, and General and check the "macro virus protection" box).

Update your virus checker regularly. If you don't have an updated virus checker, you can download a trial version to see if you may want to purchase it later.

The Web is your best source of data on new viruses, and most anti-virus companies keep full information on new viruses in circulation.

PEEPS ONLINE. Before the term "peeps" became a part of teen-age slang, it was the name that guaranteed somethign sweet, smooshy, and oh so gooey.

I'm refering to Marshmallow Peeps, and if you're going to surf the Web today, you owe it to yourself to visit the company that makes those cute -- and tasty -- Peeps, found online at www.marshmallowpeeps.com.

Peeps are a product of the Bethlehem, Pa.-based Just Born Inc. The company also makes the "Mike & Ike," "Hot Tamales," and other candies.

At the Web site, you can read about the company's history (started by a Russian immigrant in 1910), read about their latest Peep products (tried the Peep Eggs yet?), or go on a virtual tour of the process that creates more than 2 million Peeps per year.

And while I never thought of it, Just Born has a section that offers recipes using Peeps.

These go beyond Peeps-On-A-Stick and Peeps Kabob. They provide instructions to allow you to make PeepS'mores, Peep-A-Boo Puffs, Marshmallow Bunny Patch Cakes and more.

The site is attractive and colorful, and if you or your child enjoy the sticky yumminess of those multicolor treats, you'll enjoy a visit to their site.

YAHOO BUYS BROADCAST.COM. While talks between the Yahoo search engine folks and the Broadcast.com Webcasting company have been rumored for months, it was still a surprise to hear the announcement: Yahoo will purchase Broadcast.com for a cool $5.7 billion.

That's a chunk of change, but it falls in line with Yahoo's strategy of becoming a distribution platform for content, advertising and business services.

Yahoo is betting that faster Internet access will become more widespread, and with that speed will mesh with Yahoo's new ability to offer media-rich content -- including video.

Broadcast.com was founded in 1995 and initially helped radio stations broadcast on the Web. But most of Broadcast.com's revenues now come from the company setting up conference calls and investor meetings on the Internet.

According to Yahoo president Jerry Mallett, the company will continue to expand its abilities to provide multimedia, communications and direct services.

Yahoo, founded in 1994 by two Standford University students, has seen its stock rise 264 percent in the past year.

Comments and questions about this column may be sent to jbrooks@myoldkentuckyhome.com, or visit www.myoldkentuckyhome.com on the World Wide Web.

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