2 May 2002 The creator of the ‘Melissa’ virus, which disrupted millions of email systems around the world in March 1999, has been sentenced to 20 months in prison and forced to pay a $5,000 (€5,530) fine.
David Smith of New Jersey unleashed the virus disguised as an email marked “important message”, which appeared to have been sent by a friend or colleague of the recipient – exploiting vulnerabilities in the Microsoft Outlook email client.
The email then sent out 50 further infected emails to names in the recipient’s address book, overloading email servers around the world and causing them to crash.
In December 1999, Smith pleaded guilty to two charges of computer theft and sending a damaged computer program. He could have faced up to five years in prison, plus a $250,000 (€275,000) fine. But the court noted that Smith had provided US government departments with “extensive assistance” in thwarting similar email viruses since his arrest three years ago.
Smith was one of the first ever people to be prosecuted for creating a computer virus. Melissa wreaked more havoc than previous viruses because of the speed with which it spread, the court said.
The first reports of the virus’ existence appeared on Friday 26 March 1999 and by the following Monday it had spread to more than 100,000 computers. An investigation by US State and Federal authorities estimated the damage caused by the virus amounted to more than $80 million (€88.5m).