MSN fighting Messenger difficulties, virus

Outages continue to plague Microsoft's online service since the weekend, possibly due to a virus using the service to spread.

People using Microsoft's instant-messaging software, MSN Messenger, may have been a mite lonely this weekend, with only a virus to keep them company.

The software giant acknowledged on Monday that it continued to battle a technical glitch that prevented MSN users from logging on to the service's instant-messaging system for the past three days. The problems, which several users complained about on discussion forums frequented by network administrators, caused several hours of outages on Monday morning.

The problems also coincided with the emergence of a new computer virus, known as Funner, that spreads using the MSN instant-messaging service and tries to direct people to a Web site, www.78p.com. However, security software firm Symantec found no evidence that the virus, which had only spread to a small number of PCs, had caused any disruptions.

"From what we have been able to see, it tries to send itself out to all of your MSN Messenger contacts," said Oliver Friedrichs, senior director of Symantec's security response team. "But we have only seen about 34 submissions in the last 24 hours--really not that significant."

The virus changes the configuration of an infected computer so that users who try to browse to one of more than 900 Web sites will be redirected to www.78p.com, according to information on Symantec's Web site. The virus may also attempt to download additional functionality from the site. The site, however, appears to be down.

By early afternoon Monday, a representative of Microsoft said the company had fixed the issues that had prevented its users from logging on to Messenger.

"The system is now back up and running," the spokesperson said at 1 p.m. PDT. "We believe that the problem is now fixed." The spokesperson did not comment on whether there was a connection between the new virus and the outage.

The spokesperson would not give further details about the problem, except to say that the Monday morning outage was due to "administrative maintenance."

The latest outage for the Microsoft Network was the focus of a discussion among network administrators on the mailing list for the North American Network Operators Group.

"Problems were going on all day (Sunday)," said one member, who did not know until he saw the discussion that the problem was more widespread. "Good to know that I am not alone."

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