Mischievous Melissa needs strict discipline

It’s so dull to be right all the time. Although I speak in jest, it’s very easy for someone in my position to say “I told you so”. However, there has to be some reward for being the boring old harbinger of doom at every Internet network meeting.

It was really only a matter of time before a virus as mischievous as Melissa popped up. I choose the word with care, as reports of major network meltdowns in the UK over the past 48 hours are coming in as I write. However, a virus which spams your friends with e-mail and jams your inbox is not nearly as malicious as it could have been.

We are lucky that Melissa has come as a timely warning, demonstrating not only the incredible penetration of e-mail into UK homes and businesses, but also the remarkable speed at which a virus can become a business problem.

Although Microsoft has put its best brains on the case, the virus variants are already springing up to confound the Seattle net-heads, whose sole task it is to rid the world of a Microsoft-hating nasty. Papa is the latest variant to rear its head.

Understandably, a ripple of panic has swept through the marketing community. What happens if the virus gets into the customer e-mail database? How could you even measure the damage to a brand if the virus was spammed from an Internet marketer’s list to their customers?

The most important element in any crisis which potentially affects consumer confidence is information. The virus is no threat to life or limb, unlike ground glass in jars of baby food, so let’s keep this in perspective. A simple e-mail advising customers not to open an attachment until they have checked where it originated is all that’s required – the virus is only unleashed once a Microsoft Word document sent as an e-mail attachment is opened.

It should be relatively easy to bin any offending looking attachments before they do any damage. But, in the current environment, no one will mind resending something if a mistake is made.

The lesson from this experience has to be that if the Internet is going to continue its explosive growth and be a useful tool for customer communication and online sales, we have to anticipate that viruses like this will arise again. The time, and, yes, the money will have to be spent to make sure that the trust we have engendered in the minds of consumers is not lost due to inadequate security.

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