Virus shuts down computers worldwide

As vain as it can be, Hollywood didn’t appreciate the affection it received Thursday as the “I Love You” computer virus shut down entire e-mail systems across the entertainment industry and around the world.

The virus initially infiltrated traditional businesses in Europe and Asia. But Internet security analysts said that the new virus, said to be more threatening than the recent Melissa virus, could cause much of its damage at media houses such as film studios, radio stations, magazines and ad agencies that have large, lucrative archives of photos and music files, which the virus directly attacks and deletes.

A new version of the virus called “Fw: Joke” with the attachment “Very Funny.vbs” was sent later in the day to get around servers looking for “I Love You.”

Disney, Warner Bros., Seagram and its Universal subsids, including Universal Music Group, Creative Artists Agency, NBC, CNN, f/x house Industrial Light & Magic and George Lucas’ other divisions, dot-coms AtomFilms and iFilm, and PR houses Rogers & Cowan and Fleishman-Hillard, among many others, were hit hard by the virus and promptly shut down their e-mail systems until late in the day before digital files or databases could disappear.

Post houses around town caught the problem before too much damage was done.

But millions could have been lost across the board from the loss of e-mail capabilities.

E-mail IV

“At one point, I felt that it was an East Coast snow day,” said Dan Adler, head of new media at CAA. “It made me realize how absolutely dependent on e-mail, on electronic databases, on Blackberry’s (an e-mail accepting interactive pager) we’ve become. It made me thankful for having done e-mails from home late last night.”

Curiously, it was business as usual at companies on L.A.’s West Side, including 20th Century Fox, Sony and Bender-Helper Impact. The William Morris Agency and Propaganda Films were also spared.

In New York, CNBC announced on air that it had been infected and tried to warn viewers. MTV and the Box were also hit.

In Washington D.C., the Pentagon, the Federal Reserve, the Coast Guard and the Defense Dept. were hit by the e-mail virus.

The virus arrives in an e-mail that includes an attachment called “I Love You” and targets accounts accessed via Microsoft’s Outlook e-mail program.

Like Melissa, which caused $80 million in damages, the new virus infiltrates a computer user’s address book and sends copies of itself to that person’s contacts.

Songs gone

Once opened, the virus overwrites picture and music files with extensions .jpg, .jpeg, .mp3 and .mp2.

New virus caused one large publishing house in New York, which wished to remain anonymous, to lose its entire photo archive.

Based on clues in the program’s code, security analysts surmised that the virus, which made its first appearance in the U.S. at 9 a.m. ET Thursday from Norway, may have originated from the Philippines.

The FBI is investigating.

“I’ve been doing anti-virus research for the past nine years, and it hasn’t been this bad,” said Mikko Hypponen, a research manager at F-Secure. “It’s spreading so fast, so globally, and twice as widespread as the Melissa virus.”

By mid-afternoon Eastern time, a virus scanning system had detected almost 1.2 million infected computer files around the world, including more than 900,000 in the U.S.

In Britain, about 30% of company e-mail systems were brought down by the virus, analysts said; in Sweden, it was 80%.

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