Love Bug Bites
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Right now I'm angry, but I'll get over it. I don't know why I should feel so ashamed. I'm a victim here, more than anything, but that's what this kind of experience does to you. Scrambles you up. Messes with your mind.

Maybe the worst part is that everybody knows about it. I was infected by a terrible virus, you see, and because of the nature of the bug, this fact became common knowledge throughout my social and professional milieu, including a bunch of people with whom I have only the most casual of relations. So it's embarrassing. Not to mention that my hard drive was almost entirely fried.

What kind of people do these things to their innocent fellow citizens of the world? I think we know, don't we? Evildoers, that's who. Not big ones, perhaps, but creatures from the dark side nonetheless.

The day began much like any other. As you may know, I'm a desk jockey, particularly now, even though flying is still so much safer than driving, right? Sure. When I'm not on the phone, I'm e-mailing people, writing memos, assembling reports, and doing all the functions appropriate to my sedentary existence. And while that's going on, in the background, I've gotten into the habit of downloading MP3s.

For a long time I was content to take old stuff off Napster, may it rest in peace. Okay, some people think that's wrong, and maybe it is, but I really can't see how Jelly Roll Morton and Claude Debussy were injured by more people hearing their music. You can't tell me that 99% of what was being shared could be found between Aguilera and Zamfir at your local Wal-Mart.

Napster is gone now, the music Gestapo have taken it away. But there are still a bunch of file-sharing services through which people can trade songs over the Internet. Over the course of the last year, it has amused me to assemble quite a subdirectory of tunes. About...5,000, to be exact.

It is often the little things that keep you sane when you've been working in the same office for a number of years. Some guys collect pens. Others putt on imaginary greens. My list of MP3s was one of those things. Then It came...and said, I LOVE YOU, and destroyed everything it touched.

Here's how it happened. I'd been hunting around for services that replicated Napster's sleazy function, and I'd found a few that did, only not half as well. That day I thought I'd found another one. I'm not going to tell you its name, because maybe it wasn't the site that gave me my virus, although I know it was, goddamn it.

I set up the service to harvest some 250 tunes off the computers of those who were online with me. I didn't have to do anything but search around until I found stuff I wanted and click a couple of OKs. Raw MP3s started pouring onto my system.

My mistake was deciding to listen to one. I believe it was by the Mamas and the Papas. "Gee," I thought. "I haven't heard that song in years." I double-clicked on it. And the world exploded before my eyes.

All of you who work in an office will understand the profound effect it has when your computer screen goes blooey. "Click click," you say, and suddenly cascades of inscrutable error messages begin pouring forth from the bowels of a system you thought you knew. It is, after all, a machine. And machines are predictable, right? But machines are only as good as the software that runs them, or the evildoers who screw them up. In this case, the Microsoft Outlook that provides the architecture for our e-mail was instantaneously corrupted by the worm hidden in the MP3 file by some hostile, pimply geek with one hand on the keyboard and the other in his pants.

At the speed of thought, both my office desktop and my BlackBerry handheld device started scrolling boldfaced messages that began with the word UNDELIVERABLE and continued with some other lettuce, including, in the subject box, the words I LOVE YOU. The mind cannot comprehend how fast those ominous error messages with their inappropriate, affectionate salutation flowed from the software onto my screen. First ten, then a hundred. Two thousand times and still only seconds had passed! UNDELIVERABLE, said the message over and over again, delivered to my inbox with supernatural velocity.

"I've got a virus," I thought stupidly. And as soon as that solid concept surfaced from the mental goo that lines my cerebrum, no more than five seconds, tops, after the attack had started, I bent over and turned off my computer. Boom. And that was that, right?

No. Even after my computer was off, the conquering worm that Flaccid Frank had introduced into my system was cavorting within our silicon ecosystem, across the nation, the world, and all divisions of the Company. By turning off the computer, I limited the outbreak. But there were more than 5,000 people out there who were learning that somebody named STANLEY BING wanted to say I LOVE YOU.

The phones started ringing. Hector in Tampa was calling to tell me he thought I might have a virus. Anna-Marie from Corporate Headquarters was inquiring if I really wanted the Chairman to know I LOVE YOU. My BlackBerry buzzed and buzzed and buzzed as thousands of viruses came back UNDELIVERABLE. That was the good news. Security software was stripping the virus attachment itself from my e-mails. All that the world was receiving was my inane message of devotion.

The help desk came and helped. They ran a scan. It found three files on my hard drive that were infected and had to be deleted. Then it found 15. And then, in its final pass, 3,500 beloved tunes, gleaned from the Internet over more than a year, showed up as corrupted. To let us know they must be deleted, the scanning software superimposed a crawling, roachlike insect over each affected file. "Disgusting, isn't it?" said Larry from the help desk. About half of my musical library was gone forever. Ah, well.

I'm cured now, although several weeks later my inbox is still filling with amusing messages. "Let's meet behind the water cooler at dusk for a quickie," the vice president of Finance e-mailed only yesterday. He's a guy in his 50s who weighs in at about 220. He's just one of hundreds of yukmeisters who have checked in. I'm a laughingstock, I guess.

Compared with everything else, the only casualty in the end is my confidence in and affection for the Internet. There is certainly a ray of light here for the recording industry, which seems to have inadvertently created a powerful ally in its fight to eradicate unauthorized music from our computers. Where countless copyright lawyers have failed, Worm Dude has succeeded. This might just be the point at which terrorism and capitalism meet and shake hands. I hope they're happy with each other.

And just for the record, I don't care about whether the teeny beanie who did this is downtrodden in some way, or feels excluded from the global establishment, or has excellent reasons for hating everything I represent. There aren't caves enough in the world to hide him. He'll get his.

Won't he?

By day, STANLEY BING is a real executive at a real FORTUNE 500 company he'd rather not name. He can be reached at