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Melissa virus "originator" bewildered

The owner of an America Online account that apparently was used to inject the Melissa virus into the wild says he had nothing to do with it and he is planning to close his account.

The owner of an America Online account that apparently was used to inject the Melissa virus into the wild says he had nothing to do with it, and he is planning to close his account because of the online giant's "lack of security."

"I am a little jarred about the lack of security that AOL has in place, and am now going to close my AOL account," Scott Steinmetz said in an email.

"We are aggressively looking into it," said AOL spokeswoman Wendy Goldberg. "There are a number of variables that need to be further investigated before we can make a determination about whether it was an unwitting propagation."

Beyond that, she said AOL doesn't comment on individual users' accounts.

The Melissa virus, which was introduced in "alt.sex" newsgroups early Friday morning, uses a combination of Microsoft's Outlook and Word programs to spread, taking advantage of users' email address book entries to gain the appearance of coming from a known person.

The virus has the potential not only to spread to hundreds of users its original virus-infected document, "list.doc," but also future Word documents carrying Melissa after the initial infection.

"I am not the creator of the virus, nor did I have any part in the distribution of the virus," Steinmetz said.

Because of Melissa's notoriety, Steinmetz said his email traffic jumped from 2 messages per week to 20 per hour. Among the messages are hate mail, fan mail, requests from virus programmers for code, and requests from news organizations.

How Melissa worksThe FBI is determining whether the virus meets the requirements in the criminal code for an investigation, FBI spokesman George Grotz said today.

The virus could violate laws that forbid "the transmission of a program, information, code, or command" that "intentionally causes damage, without authorization, to a protected computer," Grotz said.

Antivirus software companies said one danger for Melissa damage was in overburdened email servers. However, AOL, which handles an average of 51 million messages per day, didn't see a significant increase in traffic, AOL's Goldberg said.