NEW YORK — A computer virus pretending to be an electronic photo of teenage tennis star Anna Kournikova overwhelmed e-mail servers throughout Europe and North America on Monday.
The virus slowed e-mail systems and forced some companies to shut down their e-mail while they cleaned out the rogue program. Security experts said the virus doesn't permanently damage computers.
Within a few hours, the virus had spread almost as rapidly as last May's "I Love You" virus, which caused tens of millions of dollars in damage worldwide. Anti-virus researchers expected more computer infections during business today in Asia.
The virus only spreads through Microsoft Corp's Outlook e-mail software on computers that use Microsoft Windows, although Macintosh users and those using other e-mail programs can still spread the virus manually.
The virus is known as a worm because it can automatically send copies of itself to everyone on a recipient's address book. That could be thousands of copies per person for a larger corporation.
The virus, which appears to have originated in Europe, comes as the attachment "AnnaKournikova.jpg.vbs" and carries the message "Hi: Check This!" At least three subject lines have been identified: "Here you have," "Here you go" and "Here you are"--all followed by a smiling face.
Microsoft spokesman Adam Sohn said the company released a security update last June, shortly after the "I Love You" virus spread using similar techniques. That update generates a warning any time a computer program attempts to access Outlook's address book.
Mikko Hypponen, manager of anti-virus research for F-Secure Corp., said the virus does not permanently damage computers, but if the virus, if left alone, will try to contact a Dutch Web site Jan. 26, 2002.
Many anti-virus companies have developed software updates to filter the new virus, and many network administrators responded by configuring e-mail servers to automatically reject the message.