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Melissa virus creator gets 20 months

David L. Smith, who started a virus that hobbled computer systems across the U.S. three years ago, is sentenced to 20 months in prison and ordered to pay $5,000 in fines.

The creator of the Melissa computer virus, which hobbled computer systems across the United States three years ago, was sentenced Wednesday to 20 months in prison and ordered to pay $5,000 in fines.

Virus creator David L. Smith also must serve 3 years of supervised release, during which he cannot use the Internet, computer networks, or bulletin boards unless authorized by the court.

The judge also ordered Smith to complete 100 hours of community service, which will take advantage of his computer skills in a supervised atmosphere.

Smith, who was nabbed shortly after the virus was released, pleaded guilty in December 1999. In his plea document, Smith agreed that he caused $80 million in damages.

The Melissa virus was one of the first major viruses to wreak havoc on corporate networks. It disguised itself as a friendly e-mail containing the subject line "Important message from" followed by the name of a familiar person. If an Outlook user opened the attachment, the virus would send itself to the top 50 listings in the user's address book and add that person's name to the subject of the message.

Although the virus itself was not considered malicious because it did not delete files, the exponential multiplication of messages caused some systems to come to a grinding halt.