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10:51 AM
George V. Hulme
George V. Hulme

A Decade Ago, ILoveYou Worm Changed Security

It's been a decade to the week since the infamous "Love Bug "or ILoveYou virus hammered in-boxes around the world. While mass-mailer viruses of this type don't make headlines anymore, the ILoveYou virus forever changed the face of IT security.

It's been a decade to the week since the infamous "Love Bug "or ILoveYou virus hammered in-boxes around the world. While mass-mailer viruses of this type don't make headlines anymore, the ILoveYou virus forever changed the face of IT security.On May 4, 2000 I woke to find nearly a dozen subject lines in my inbox that all read: ILOVEYOU. These e-mails came from industry analysts, security vendors, and PR people who must have been infected with the worm and clicked on the LOVE-LETTER-FOR-YOU.TXT.vbs attachment.

It was obvious something was awry, I just had no idea to what extent.

Within an hour, it became clear that one of the most devastating worm attacks ever was well underway. Sources at businesses I spoke with that morning across the U.S. and Europe reported having jammed E-mail servers. Many businesses and government agencies had to take their mail systems offline for a number of days for cleanup. The research firm Computer Economics estimated total costs to exceeded $5 billion.

The worm relied on users to click on the attachment to send itself to everyone listed in the infected users' Outlook address book. The worm leveraged, primarily, two weaknesses. One was how Microsoft parsed file names from right to left, stopping when the algorithm hit the first "dot." This made it easy for attackers just to add ".txt" to malicious files and to trick users into thinking the file was safe. The worm also relied on a scripting engine that Microsoft left on by default, and errors in how attachments could easy gain control to important aspects of the Windows operating system.

The ILoveYou worm hit about a year after the mass E-mail worm Melissa struck, but it wrought much more damage.

The ILoveYou attack is historically notable for a few reasons beyond its destruction:

First, businesses had become more dependent on e-mail, and it was the first computer virus that significantly disrupted productivity. The attention toward and spending on end-point antivirus tools skyrocketed after this worm struck. End-point security finally became recognized as being important.

Second, it was the beginning of the end of Microsoft's ability to put its head in the sand when it came to consistently adding new features and convenience with no regard to security. The world finally began to take seriously the fact that too many services within the Windows operating system and productivity suites were turned on by default. It'd take a few more embarrassing vulnerabilities and malware attacks, such as the 2001 Code Red and Nimda attacks to get Microsoft to take the warning seriously. But ILoveYou grabbed the entire world, for the first time, by the collar and forced it to take security seriously.

Third, The suspect was from the Philippines, and ILoveYou highlighted that cybercrime was indeed an international problem, and how crucial international law enforcement efforts would be in the years ahead.

Looking back, while we managed to better secure the operating system and E-mail, we've more than lost those gains to the insecurities of Web applications. And despite Microsoft's aggressive Secure Development Lifecycle, and the gains in application security they've made, the efforts haven't come far enough to significantly reduce end user risk. And not enough enterprise software vendors have followed Microsoft's lead in this area. As for international law efforts, there hasn't been much "love" given to those efforts, either.

For my security and technology observations throughout the day, consider following me on Twitter.

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