What Quick Spreading Virus Relied On Recipient’s Curiosity To Propagate?
In May of 2000 a new virus ripped across the world in record time, infecting over 50 million computers within the first two weeks. The virus spread by email and relied on a combination of social engineering, a barely known but powerful Windows scripting engine, and the Windows setting that hid file extensions by default.
Launched by two students in the Philippines, the virus came attached to an email with the subject “ILOVEYOU” and LOVE-LETTER-FOR-YOU.TXT as an attached file. In reality the attached file was actually a VBS script but, because of the way Windows parses file names when the computer is set to hide the extensions, it didn’t show the full file name with the .TXT.VBS at the end–only if you had changed the default settings in Windows to always show the file extension would you see what the love letter really was.
Once clicked, the ILOVEYOU virus took advantage of an enormously powerful scripting engine tucked away with in Windows that very few people were even aware of–Microsoft had never formally used the engine, it was essentially a piece of orphaned but extremely powerful code. Many recipients, who would be hesitant to open a strange file, thought it was a harmless text file and opened it. Because the virus replicated itself using the address book of the previously infected host, the lover letter would come from a person you actually knew–the temptation to open and read a love letter from someone you had a personal relationship with and that was addressed to you was simply too strong. People, by the hundreds of thousands, opened the email.
It was a perfect storm: the end user’s deep curiosity about the love letter combined with the powerful and vulnerable scripting engine. The virus swept around the world as offices in each time zone opened for business. Major corporations and government offices had to take their mail servers down just to protect themselves. The total damages were estimated at 5.5 billion dollars. Until the rapid spread of the MyDoom virus in 2004, ILOVEYOU held the record for the fasted email-propagated virus in history.