Chapter 5: Understanding macros: a background

Unveiling the legacy of macro malware: A powerful threat with enduring impact

Welcome to the realm of macro malware, a prevalent and enduring menace in the cybersecurity landscape. As industry insiders are well aware, macro malware continues to have a significant impact, with a high number of occurrences in the wild.

Let us delve into its intriguing origins, tracing back to a significant milestone in 1999: the emergence of the infamous Melissa virus.

Melissa made history as the first macro virus combined with an email worm, rapidly propagating through email networks on March 26, 1999. Within a matter of hours, tens of thousands fell victim to its widespread assault. This catastrophic outbreak stands as a stark reminder of the formidable nature of macro malware.

Operating through a clever ploy, the malware concealed itself within a Microsoft Word file, waiting for unsuspecting victims to open it. Once unleashed, Melissa proceeded to email itself to the first 50 contacts in the victim’s address book, swiftly expanding its reach. While individual users may not have suffered significant damage, the unintended consequences were far-reaching, inadvertently causing multiple mail services to experience debilitating Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks.

The financial toll of Melissa’s rampage was estimated at a staggering $80 million. The perpetrator behind this malicious act faced justice, serving a 20-month sentence in federal prison. Since that fateful event, macro malware has maintained its position as one of the most favored attack vectors for executing malicious code on remote systems, enabling threat actors to gain unauthorized control.