Happy B-Day Melissa
Melissa was an exotic dancer and David L. Smith was obsessed with her and also with writing viruses. The virus he named after Melissa and released to the world on March 26th, 1999, kicked off a period of high-profile threats that rocked the Internet between 1999 and 2005. I like to think of it as the “Virus & Worm World Tour.”
2001 Code Red
2003 SQL Slammer
Threats would ricochet around the Internet in less than a day. We’d see infections follow the sun as people came into work, turned on their computer, and opened up email. The SQL Slammer worm actually made it around the Internet within 15 minutes—yes, every machine vulnerable to the threat and online was infected within 15 minutes.
When you had that kind of impact, people knew your name. Not only had everyone working in IT heard of Melissa, but all my relatives had, too. I spent as much time between 1999 and 2005 talking to non-security professionals about high-profile threats as I did security professionals.
That’s all changed now. I still get an occasional email forwarded to me about some hoax virus, but that’s about it. I’m no longer sought out at cocktail parties. So, that must mean viruses are not a big deal anymore, right? Unfortunately, we all know that’s not true.
Once the bad guys moved from fame to fortune we saw the number of attacks grow exponentially. But they got stealthy. The graffiti writer wants everyone to see his work. The thief doesn’t want you to know he’s in your house stealing the china. So they are still a big deal—bigger, in fact. They just don’t make the news anymore.