Variant of "I Love You" virus attacks

Almost 50 variants to "I Love You" have turned up in recent months. The attention-grabbing subject line for the latest mutant, which reads --"US PRESIDENT AND FBI SECRETS" -- made it especially troublesome. Users at around thirty US organisations reported being affected by the nasty program, which is named VBS/Loveletter.bj, according to officials at antivirus company McAfee.

The virus is a reason for concern, but not panic, the officials said. The latest variant appears to have affected only users who did not keep their antivirus protection software up to date, said officials at McAfee, a unit of Network Associates.

Vince Gullatto, senior director at McAfee's Avert Labs, said most of the variants that have appeared have stayed within a given company's networks. With the latest mutant, however, an unidentified media entity that had more communications with outside companies was affected, which lead to a wider distribution of the bug.

Like the original "I Love You," this variant spreads itself via Microsoft's Outlook software and can delete image files from a user's computer. Microsoft developed a patch for its Outlook software that helped companies fight off the variants of the virus, but some corporations simply failed to install the patch, leaving their systems vulnerable, Gullatto said.

Both McAfee and UK-based antivirus software vendor Sophos said they posted an alert to the variant on their Web sites. Users in both the US and in Europe have likely been affected, Gullatto said.

"We know of a large enterprise customer who has the original version, and they have this variant as well," he said. Gullatto added that companies should update their antivirus DAT files more regularly in order to avoid future incidents. Companies often do not realise that an employee has disabled the anti-virus software or fail to stay on top of available updates, he said.

"Some of the companies have not updated in the last year," Gullatto said. "We find time and time again that they believe they are protected."

He also added that mobile workers tend to give companies the most grief in deflecting the painful viruses. Mobile users, in particular, do not update their antivirus protection software while on the road.

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