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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kournikova Virus Strikes E-Mail

PALO ALTO, California — Hackers are using a promised photograph of sexy Russian tennis star Anna Kournikova to serve up a fast-spreading computer virus.

The virus struck computers overnight in the United States, its full force being felt in Europe as the working day began Tuesday.

It uses a so-called worm to spread just like last year's "Love Bug" or "Love Letter" virus, which infected some 15 million computers and sent servers crashing around the world as unsuspecting users opened e-mails tagged "I Love You."

"It's an old virus concept but you put a pretty face and a nice pair of legs on it and people open it," said Steve Gottwals, director of product marketing for F-Secure Corp.

Moscow-born Kournikova, 19, is the world's ninth-ranked female tennis player and has never won a WTA title.

British anti-virus company Sophos said it appeared to have affected hundreds of thousands of computers in Europe, including many big companies.

"It is probably the biggest virus since the Love Bug. It went quiet overnight but took off again this morning when people started opening their e-mails," said Sophos' Graham Cluley.

The Kournikova virus — also known as "VBS," "SST" or "On the Fly" — was first discovered in August and has been found in more than 50 large U.S. corporations, software company Network Associates said in a statement.

McAfee's World Virus Map, a web site that tracks infected computers, said California was most infected by the Kournikova virus, and Asia and Africa were the least infected regions.

The subject line on the Kournikova virus e-mail reads: "Here you have, ;o)." The text field reads "Hi: Check this!"

When users of Microsoft's Outlook e-mail software open the attachment, which is disguised as a photo file, the virus infects their computers and sends itself to every name in the users' address book.

"It's not dangerous in a sense that it's data destructive," said Vincent Weafer, of the Symantec Antivirus Research Center. The Kournikova virus and others like it are damaging because they have the potential to clog e-mail systems and crash servers.

"They spread and burn very quickly, but die very quickly," he said.

Experts said the virus seemed to have been built from a programming tool kit created by a hacker known as "Kalimar." If the virus is not completely flushed from a computer, it will automatically connect to the web site of a Dutch company called Dynabyte on Jan. 26 each year, they said.

Virus watchers at Trend Micro believe that Kournikova was written by a hacker in Holland who used the handle "On the Fly."

A milder variant of "Love Bug" is bothering Italians, possibly set to coincide with Valentine's Day on Wednesday.

"C'e una cartolina per te" (Here's a postcard for you) it reads, but the attachment has the same e-mail-spamming result. (Reuters, AP)