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Lovebug hits businesses where it hurts

A computer virus which has paralysed businesses and organisations around the world, is estimated to have cost the Swiss economy millions of francs. The Lovebug virus which first attacked on Thursday, appears as an e-mail entitled "I LOVE YOU".

A user who opens an attachment on the e-mail unwittingly unleashes the virus, which then proceeds to send itself to all e-mails listed in the user's address book.

The resulting data overload leads to documents being lost or over-written.

In Switzerland, the German-language television broadcaster, DRS, the telecommunications firm, Swisscom, and the supermarket chain Migros were among those worse hit. Between 15,000 and 20,000 computers in the government's administration were also struck.

Claudio Frigerio, from the Federal Office for Information technology, said countless hours have already been spent on installing anti-virus programmes, and that the virus would be eleiminated by the beginning of next week.

However, he said there was a danger it could take longer to retrieve documents that were written over as a result of the virus.

Frigerio said the Lovebug had been so successful in spreading istelf, because it was faster than the time it took to develop an anti-virus. He said it usually took up to five hours to develop and install a programme to get rid of the virus.

Swisscom was one of the hardest hit. 100 computer experts worked through the night but by Friday morning, 15,000 computers were still severly disrupted, crippling many services.

Ruth Stadelmann of Credit Suisse said the company managed to locate the virus quickly to avoid any disruption. "The biggest impact the virus had was the upset it caused," she said.

According to experts, the Love-bug is a variant of Melissa, which caused a similar amount of damage last year, and is believed to have originated in the Philippines.

Even if the Lovebug is eliminated from computer systems, a new variant is threatening to take its place. The "Joke" virus which appeared on Friday is also spread through the e-mail system with an attachment called "Very Funny". Businesses and organisations in Switzerland are not likely to find it a laughing matter.

swissinfo with agencies

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