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"Love" virus accidentally targets fax machines

A few confused people around the world see their fax machines churning out page after page of the computer code underlying the destructive "I Love You" virus.

It's a most modern definition of uselessness: An email virus that sends itself to a fax machine.

That's what a few confused people around the world saw today, as their fax machines began churning out page after page of the computer code underlying the destructive "I Love You" virus.

The damage created by this particular manifestation of the virus--the computer equivalent of a pistol shooting a flag that says "BANG"--was nil. If anything, it proved that Microsoft's Outlook program was capable of annoying people even away from their personal computers.

These misfires were just the tip of a far more destructive iceberg, however. Already analysts have said that the "I Love You" bug and its various mutations spread far more quickly than Melissa, the fast-moving virus that clogged email systems around the world last year.

Security analysts say the "Love Bug" virus, along with any of the lengthening list of Outlook parasites that periodically sweep the Net, will mail themselves to almost anything inside the mail program's address book.

Most of these addresses will naturally be email addresses. But a few will turn up as gateways that allow computers to send an email to a fax machine, or to a pager. The virus will treat that like any other email address, and happily send itself out.

Because no computer is waiting on the other end, the virus arrives in its most naked form--a string of text incomprehensible to anyone without programming knowledge.

"The virus sends itself to the first 300 addresses in the address book," said Scott Blake, security program manager for Bindview's RAZOR consulting team. "If they had an email to fax gateway in the address book, then that could have been one of the (targets)."

Does this mean that owners of fax machines and text pagers now need worry about every new virus sweeping the Net? Not at all, unless a few pages of computer code is too much to bear.

There may even be bright side--the lucky recipients of "I Love You's" eight pages of faxed code now have a little bit of computer history in their hands.

Now, if only there was a virus-writer around to autograph it.