Electronic links to thousands of companies across the world were closed yesterday due to a new virus, described as the most ferocious witnessed to date and much worse than the Melissa virus which hit companies last year.

The virus was contained within an attachment to an e-mail message entitled “I love you.” Users' PCs would hang when they tried to activate the e-mail, during which time the virus was self-propagating and then sending itself to every address in the user’s e-mail address book.

The virus appeared to originate in the Philippines. It spread across Europe and, to a lesser extent, the United States.

The virus was directed at mostly graphics files, having a particularly damaging effect on the media, graphics, web development and content industry because it corrupts jpeg files.

Within hours of its discovery, anti-virus software companies had posted remedy programs on the internet. However, the damage is already being estimated in the billions of dollars.

In the UK, it is possible that a company could be sued for negligence where a virus is introduced to its system and spread to those receiving e-mail attachments from its system. In a case such as this Love Letter Virus, which appears to have fooled state-of-the-art virus detection software, a company could still be considered negligent by a court if it failed to remedy the problem quickly, when such a remedy became available.