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Saturday, July 22nd, 2006

Threat: ILOVEYOU Virus
Discovered: May 4, 2000
Also known as: VBS.LoveLetter
Type: Script virus

The ILOVEYOU virus first appeared in email boxes in the south Pacific and spread across the world from Hong-Kong to Europe to the United States in less than a day. Government organizations and large corporations were forced to shut down their e-mail systems in order to prevent widespread contamination. As a result, business was brought to a stand still while the infection was contained.

At its height, ILOVEYOU infected 10 percent of computers connected to the Internet, causing $5.5 billion in damage.

The virus’s rapid proliferation is a result of its use of mailing lists, social engineering and VBScripts. Because the viruses generated targets based on the mailing lists stored on a victim’s machine, infected messages appeared to come from an acquaintance and were often considered safe as a result.

The virus also used an enticing subject header, “ILOVEYOU,” which provided further incentive for users to open the infected message. Lastly, VBScripts had not been previously exploited to such a degree as to attract attention to their potential threat, and as a result there were fewer layers of protection preventing the dissemination of ILOVEYOU.

Along with spreading quickly and causing mail servers to be disabled, the ILOVEYOU virus also maliciously writes over files on infected machines with copies of itself. While it requires the user to run the script in order to execute the infectious code, it is disguised as attachment with the name “LOVE-LETTER-FOR-YOU.TXT.vbs,” which many confuse to be a text document, rather than an executable script.

Once run, the obscure VBScript file will perform a series of tasks to embed and propagate its malicious code into, as well as extract sensitive information out of, an infected system.

  • First, additions are made to the system registry that activates the virus whenever Windows boots.
  • Next, the virus will search and replace media and document files on local and network drives with copies of itself, as well as mail out similar versions to all entries in the Microsoft Outlook address book.
  • Finally, the ILOVEYOU virus has a component that will download and execute a password stealing program which will relay any cached passwords to a third party.

Because this virus sent copies to everyone in a victims address book, ILOVEYOU infection grew exponentially—all it took was a few users accessing this VBS attachment to generate thousands of emails, overwrite thousands of files and eventually overwhelm mail servers worldwide.

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