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Love virus variant plagues email systems

Five months after its first disastrous outbreak, the "I Love You" virus is still churning out destructive mutants.

Five months after its first disastrous outbreak, the "I Love You" virus is still churning out destructive mutants.

The latest mutant making the rounds is a month-old variation with new window dressing but the same destructive payload that deletes image files and spreads itself via Microsoft's Outlook address book. The subject header reads "US PRESIDENT AND FBI SECRETS."

Antivirus company McAfee, a division of Network Associates, posted an alert on the variant. So did English antivirus company Sophos.

Virus hunters said the latest variant warrants concern but not panic. It's the 44th mutant identified since May's initial I Love You outbreak, also known as the Love Letter virus or the Love bug, crippled corporate computer systems across the globe.

"Love Letter hasn't gone away, and we have had small flare-ups here and there," said Vince Gullotto, director of McAfee AVERT Labs. "This one is more prevalent, but we don't think we're going to see a huge outbreak. It could cause a large enterprise situation some grief for a few weeks."

Antivirus companies--which profit when people and companies pay for precautions--have long cautioned that existing patches and antivirus software can prevent much of the lingering threat of known viruses such as the Love bug.

Microsoft patched its Outlook software to resist viral attacks following the outbreak.

"It's like Melissa or lots of these worms that will continue to nag," Gullotto said. "Companies have to know that they're not going to go away. They were designed not to go away."