Computer worm causes

tens of millions of problems
The virus is described as “the most aggressive” one America Online has seen.

PHILADELPHIA – Brian Clarke fired up his laptop Thursday and got buried in an avalanche of 414 email messages – most of them generated by this week’s latest computer virus, the “Sobig” worm.

“This has just been the biggest pain in the world,” said Clarke, who travels the Mid-Atlantic region representing the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity on university campuses. “I like using email, but this makes it ridiculous.”

So, how big is Sobig?

Since Monday, the virus has sent itself millions of times over as an attachment to emails with subject lines such as “Details,” “Wicked screensaver,” and “That movie.” Some email providers catch them, and some don’t.

America Online on Thursday matched Wednesday’s record, when 23 million copies of the virus were blocked before they reached AOL users’ email boxes, spokesman Nicholas Graham said.

“This is the most aggressive” virus, Jimmy Kuo, of the McAfee Security Anti-Virus Emergency Response Team, said Thursday. “This is truly way, way up there,” he said. And email-security company MessageLabs Inc. proclaimed Sobig the “fastest growing virus ever” in the gallery of online pestilences that includes the infamous LoveBug, Klez and Kournikova viruses, and last week’s biggie, the Blaster worm.

Because corporate networks were more likely to have anti-virus hardware and software in use, three home PCs were being infected for every business computer that got the virus, according to McAfee.

Junk email, including unsolicited “spam” and virus-generated messages, are taking a rising toll on worker productivity, some experts say.

Ferris Research, a marketing and technology research firm in San Francisco, said earlier this year that junk email will cost American companies $10 billion in 2003. But in light of proliferating viruses such as Sobig, “the $10-billion figure is actually very conservative,” David Ferris said Thursday.

McAfee says 49 percent of Americans spend more than 40 minutes per week deleting spam, with 14 percent reporting they spend as much as three and a half hours a week – or 7.5 days per year – on this task.

Several Pennsylvania driver license bureaus – including offices in Philadelphia, Delaware and Montgomery Counties – were shut down for a time Thursday because computers at the state Department of Transportation became overwhelmed by Sobig and a second worm called “Nachi” during the previous night, spokesman Rick Kirkpatrick said.

Clarke, the fraternity representative, was visiting the Drexel University campus when he tried to log into his email Thursday morning.

He estimated that 70 percent of his email this week was being generated by the Sobig worm.

“You spend an hour (deleting the messages), and then you receive more,” he said.

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