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Melissa virus author jailed for 20 months

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The author of the infamous Melissa virus was sentenced today to 20 months in Federal prison for causing millions of dollars of damage through its release into the wild in March 1999.

David L Smith, 33, pleaded guilty to creating the virus in December 1999 - the delay in his sentencing has created consternation in the security community.

Free on bail since then, Smith learned his fate today when Judge Joseph A. Greenaway sent him to prison and imposed a $5,000 fine.

Both sides in the case agreed that damage from Melissa, one of the first email borne viruses that exploited flaws in Microsoft's Outlook client exceeded $80 million, largely by jamming up corporate email systems.

Jack Clark, product marketing manager of the McAfee division of Network Associates, described the sentence as "about right" and expressed hopes that it would act as a deterrent to other would-be virus creators.

"This sends a clear message to other virus creators, who over the last few years, thought they might get way with it," said Clark, who hoped other authorities would look at the US ruling.

Smith released the Melissa virus by deliberately posting an infected document to an alt.sex.usenet newsgroup from a stolen AOL account. The virus, believed to be named after a stripper Smith knew in Florida, forwards itself to the first 50 addresses in all of your accessible Outlook address books.

Companies such as Microsoft, Intel, Lockheed Martin, and Lucent Technologies were forced to shut down their email gateways because of the large amount of email generated by the virus. It also caused the closure of e-mail systems of government agencies in both the US and UK. ®

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