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June 2000



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Apple Cider: Random Squeezings from a Mac User

by Tom Iovino,

Those Three Words That Show You Care

The best part about being married is that you no longer have to find a new girlfriend to date.

I know that sounds cynical and misguided. Maybe you are of the mindset that believes variety is the spice of life. After all, meeting new people allows you to experience new adventures and broaden your horizons.

That may be true, but you also have to take the bad with the good. My dating history is replete with angry fathers, crazy mothers, and girlfriends who probably should have sought the assistance of a mental health professional.

I remember them well. There was my prom date who, it turns out, was also going to three other proms with different fellows. And my junior prom date who accused my pals sitting with us at the table of doing drugs—in plain view of the principal, the vice principal, and several members of our high school faculty. And then there was the girlfriend I had in college who was an excessively devout Christian. She’s the one who urged me to drop out of school and travel the country, living in hostels, converting folks who I met on city street corners.

So, you can understand how happy I was when I met the lady who eventually became my wife. She was a breath of fresh air. She was fun to be with. Her family was nice. And, best of all, she was nowhere as strange as those other women I had met in my past.

Once we became serious, I then had to negotiate the tricky waters of a long-term relationship. There was the etiquette of who took whom to dinner, when I was supposed to phone, and how we would spend our time together during the holidays.

The hardest concept for me to grasp was when I should begin to use those three very powerful words in any relationship— I love you. Say it too soon, and she wouldn’t believe me. Say it too late, and, well, we probably wouldn’t be dating anymore. Timing was critical!

That’s why I was so surprised when I came to work on Thursday, May 4th to find my e-mail inbox jammed with messages from people I worked with—and those I had never even met in my life—telling me those three powerful words. How could they be so cavalier about throwing that mojo around?

Unless you have been living under a rock for the entire month of May, you probably have heard about the Love Bug Virus. This clever little virus, allegedly created in and sent from the Philippines, had the deck stacked in its favor.


© 2000 by Leonardo Minott,,

The payload arrived innocently enough. For instance, when I opened my e-mail inbox, the first message with the subject line I Love You was from a guy I used to work with. He had a very good sense of humor, and he was just crazy enough to send something like this to me. In fact, we were working on a project for his department, and I initially thought that he was just sending a funny thank you for our department’s hard work in promoting his effort. While I didn’t fall for this trick (I was one of only five people in my department who didn’t), lots of other people around the world did.

Once the user opened the attached file called the Love Letter—BAM—the fun began. The attachment wasn’t a letter. Instead, it was a VisualBasic script that did a few clever things. It affected data files on Windows 98 and NT machines associated with Web development, including .JS and .CSS files. These were overwritten with VisualBasic, and the original file was deleted. Next, it went after multimedia files, affecting JPEGs and MP3s. Again, it deleted the original files and overwrote them with VisualBasic. This was a pretty destructive action, considering how much data is archived in digital format. For example, one magazine in Sweden lost five years of archived photos in a huge hurry, and the Love Bug virus missed wiping out the Swedish War Archives photos by mere hours.

Adding insult to injury, the virus also changed your home page, directing you to a site which offered a program to fix the damage caused by the virus. However, once gullible users downloaded and ran the fix, the program sniffed out their stored passwords and sent ’em to an anonymous e-mail address.

Finally, the virus further spread itself by sending copies to everyone in the user’s e-mail address book. This both quickly perpetuated the spread of the virus and staggered mail servers with the sheer volume of messages. E-mail servers in the US Senate, British Parliament, numerous companies, and even the little ol’ county government I work for were paralyzed and later shut down for several days. This was a huge problem for our office, as we were holding two major county events on Saturday, May 6th, and we were heavily reliant on e-mail to communicate with event committee members and sponsors.

How could this virus have caught so many people with their pants down when the Y2K glitch had an extremely negligible worldwide effect? It can all be summed up in one word: preparation.

Warnings about Y2K were raised even as early as 1979, when Robert Bemer, one of the pioneers of COBOL, warned that there could be a problem with computers beginning at midnight of January 1st, 2000. Work on getting systems compliant began in earnest in the mid-1990s. Systems were tested and re-tested through 1998 and 1999. People were on full alert starting in December, 1999.

With all of this proactive thought, it was no surprise that when the champagne corks popped, the computers were all up and running. However, this Love Bug virus hit systems managers like a ton of bricks. But, did it really have to?

The Melissa virus, which behaved similarly to the Love Bug virus, should have served as a wake up call to every site administrator and purveyor of anti-virus software. The reason why it didn’t, I’m guessing, is because the Melissa virus only spread to the first 50 contacts in the victim’s address book. This prevented the conflagration seen with the Love Bug virus, which copied everyone in the address book, thus limiting the amount of impact it had around the world. Still, with Melissa grabbing worldwide headlines, it should have served as notice to the gaping security hole which existed in e-mail.

There’s one other quick point I have to make. The virus only affected Windows 98 and NT machines. Computers using Unix and the Mac OS weren’t directly affected by the virus. This may seem like a minor point to some, but one of the cities we were working with on our big event served their e-mail to Unix and Macintosh powered computers. Their e-mail system, while slowed due to the volume of e-mail coming in, wasn’t brought down with everyone else’s, enabling them to at least use their internal e-mail, greatly assisting in the execution of the event.

The upshot of this story is that, once again, the wishes of the Windows backers who hoped that Mac and other competitors would just go away were misguided. A more diverse computing environment would have helped to keep the Love Bug, and other future viruses, in check.

In fact, I care so much about Windows users and other people who are considering purchasing their first computer, that I will say those three words which mean that I truly feel concern for them: Get a Mac.

apple“Apple Cider: Random Squeezings from a Mac user” is copyright © 2000 Tom Iovino,

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Reader Comments (2)

anonymous · September 25, 2003 - 11:34 EST #1
Well, that was a pretty good story. Thanks for the information, but what I would like to know is, if you unplug your computer while a virus is attacking your data files, would that stop it? Is there also a way to restore your information?
Lee Bennett (ATPM Staff) · September 25, 2003 - 23:42 EST #2
You don't even have to unplug your computer. Shutting off the computer will halt a virus' progression. Completely.

But don't misunderstand me. This doesn't solve the problem. You've only paused it. Starting your computer back up will be grounds for the virus to continue it's destruction.

Often, you can restore your computer. A good source to help identify then disinfect a virus is the Norton Antivirus Center. However, the best thing you can possibly do is purchase and install a modern antivirus utility like Virex and, most importantly, keep its virus listings up to date!

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