One of the most important worm outbreaks in history happened ten years ago to the day.
Loveletter (aka ILOVEYOU or Lovebug) spread around the world in matter of minutes. When you got infected, the worm would send this e-mail from your system — posing as you — to all of your contacts:
From: (your e-mail address) To: (one of your contacts) Subject: ILOVEYOU Attachment: LOVE-LETTER-FOR-YOU.TXT.vbs Message: kindly check the attached LOVELETTER coming from me.
This turned out to be very effective. People would be surprised by the message, open the attachment and spam all of their friends with the same message. In couple of hours, millions of users around the world were infected.
And we were in the middle of this. As far as I know, we were the first ones to discover this worm.
I remember working with the case with Katrin Tocheva (nowadays at Microsoft), Sami Rautiainen (nowadays at Stonesoft) and Alexey Podrezov (still here at F-Secure).
Here's the e-mail that we believe to be "patient zero", i.e. the first infected party that contacted an antivirus company for help. The e-mail is from John Schrøder who worked for our Norwegian partner at the time:
Date: Thu, 4 May 2000 09:41:08 +0200 From: John Schrøder To: samples@F-Secure.com Subject: Can you check this out Importance: high
I got the attached vbs script from client here in Norway. They say that this 'Love Letter' has spread to 100.000 machines in the client network in Europe.
Katrin was the analyst in charge of the shift when Loveletter struck, and she's the one that entered our company into emergency mode:
Date: Thu, 04 May 2000 10:21:13 +0300 To: all-employees From: Katrin Tocheva Subject: IMPORTANT: New worm extremly in the wild
There is a new Script worm that is extremely in the wild since this morning. Many big companies in Europe are already infected. I already spoke with our IT guys and all Outlook users are now protected internally but just in case Do Not open any attachments.
The worm spreads via Outlook in a message with a
subject: ILOVEYOU Body: 'kindly check the attachedLOVELETTER coming from me' Attachment:LOVE-LETTER-FOR-YOU.TXT.VBS
We will be entering EMERGENCY MODE, effective *NOW*
Please be careful!
Emergency Mode meant various things, including canceling all in-house meetings, calling in extra people to answer phones at the switchboard and so on. It also meant that lab staff would not be allowed to leave for lunch. Instead, company would bring in pizzas for them automatically. We even had an intranet system where you would select your "emergency pizza" flavor.
Here's another example from my e-mail archives. First sample or the worm via industry sample exchange — in this case, from MessageLabs ("this is a big one guys...").
Date: Thu, 4 May 2000 10:23:38 +0100 From: Alex at MessageLabs To: email@example.com Subject: URGENT HEADS UP - LoveBug virus sample
This is a big one guys. 600 copies in the last hour. Call me for details
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Alex Shipp Imagineer ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I remember working on the case all day from 07:41 GMT when it started until midnight, then going to bed only to be woken up at 3am by calls from USA.
I also remember exiting a phone conference with CERTs and other security vendors. When I hung up my phone and looked at the screen, it showed that I had received and missed 40+ phone calls during that 30-minute conference call. All those calls were coming in from partners, vendors & media. Everybody wanted to know what was happening and how to fight the outbreak.
10 years ago, virus outbreaks were mainstream news. Here's the front page of CNN from the time. This screenshot also nicely illustrates how hard it is to try to predict how bad a particular outbreak might become.