Melissa virus creator sentenced to 20 months in prison

The computer programmer who created the Melissa virus was sentenced to 20 months in federal prison today for unleashing the virus that infected thousands of computers worldwide in 1999 and caused more than $80 million in damage.

In December 1999, David L. Smith, 33, of Aberdeen, N.J., pleaded guilty to a state charge of computer theft and a federal charge of sending a damaged computer program (see story).

In the federal plea, Smith and federal prosecutors agreed that the damages in the case were greater than $80 million.

Smith faced up to five years in prison. He was also fined $5,000 by U.S. District Judge Joseph Greenaway Jr., according to a clerk in the U.S. District Court in New Jersey.

The Melissa virus flooded corporate networks with e-mail messages, forcing some companies, including Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp., to shut down their e-mail systems.

The macro virus launched when a user opened an infected Microsoft Word document sent as an e-mail attachment.

The e-mail, usually bearing the name of someone the recipient knew, had a subject line that said, "Here is the document you asked for... don't show anyone else ;-)." When a user opened the attachment the virus was sent to the first 50 names in the user's address book.

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