E-MAIL VIRUS GIVES FIRMS SLIGHT FEVER

Byline: Scott Malone / With contributions by Anne D’Innocenzio / David Moin / Valerie Seckler / Eric Wilson

NEW YORK — The “I love you” virus and its relatives by no means spared the fashion industry as they wormed their way through the networks of the corporate world. But in many cases, they posed little more than a few hours’ inconvenience, according to executives contacted by WWD on Friday.
Not all industries were so lucky. Companies in the automotive, technology and financial-services sectors reported extensive disruptions.
A few fashion companies reported multiple-day interruptions of their e-mail service.
Jeanswear giant Levi Strauss & Co. caught the problem early. According to a spokeswoman, its information-services department in San Francisco first noticed the virus at 3 a.m. Pacific time Thursday.
“We had signs posted in our lobbies informing employees of the problem as they arrived,” she said.
Thursday morning, the company shut its “firewall” — the tool used to block communication between a company’s internal network and the rest of the world — to prevent additional copies of the virus from making their way in. In a Friday afternoon interview, the spokeswoman said the firewall was still closed because the company was concerned about the new variations of the virus that were appearing around the world.
She said the company hoped to reestablish its computer connection with the rest of the world by Sunday afternoon.
“Our communications and exchange of information were greatly slowed,” she said. “People that depend on the Internet are using other methods — phone, fax and overnight delivery. We’re making do.”
Anne Klein also took down its e-mail system for Thursday and Friday, forcing its employees to hit the phones and faxes.
“This is not stopping us from doing business, but it is causing a slowdown,” said Wendy Shivian, president.
Perhaps the most affected, she said, is the company’s production department, which regularly does business with Hong Kong via e-mail. With the time difference, employees in the production office are now forced to make calls in the middle of the night.
Most companies did not report that much downtime. For the heavyweights of the retailing and manufacturing world, the viruses making their way around the world represented little more than a bump in the road.
At Wal-Mart Stores Inc., of Bentonville, Ark., a spokesman reported that the virus had no effect on e-mail systems.
The bug turned up at some parts of Cincinnati-based Federated Department Stores Inc., but posed little threat because of the company’s software choices, explained Carol Sanger, vice president of corporate communications and external affairs.
Federated uses IBM’s Lotus Notes e-mail program — not Microsoft Outlook, which the virus was designed to exploit. Because of that, individual users could receive the virus — as Sanger said she did — but it could not travel to other computers.
New York converter Pressman-Gutman also reported a technical dodge of the virus. According to president Jim Gutman, one employee received the “I love you” e-mail. But his computer was running Windows 95 — an old version of the popular operating system — and the virus did nothing; apparently it was not Windows 95-compliant, Gutman noted.
“We’ve dodged that bullet, I’m happy to say,” he said.
The company experienced some slowdowns in its communications with Asian suppliers and some local customers, but nothing to stop it in its tracks, he said.
Chemicals giant DuPont, in Wilmington, Del., experienced no major disruptions as a result of the viruses.
At VF Corp., the problem was well in hand by noon Thursday, according to a spokeswoman.
“I know that many of us around here got the e-mail with the virus attached, but most of us had been alerted to it, so we didn’t open it,” she said.
Thursday afternoon, the company’s information-services department reminded employees to turn off their computers when they left for the day, so that virus-protection software could be updated. At no point did the company e-mail system go down, she added.
Even e-tailers — from whom the Internet is a lifeline to customers — said the effect of the virus was minimal.
“We were infected [Thursday] morning; we discovered the virus at about 9 a.m.,” said a spokeswoman for New York-based Internet off-pricer Bluefly Inc. late Friday afternoon. “It only affected our e-mail, not our e-commerce. We did more faxing than usual. Our technical team put some new systems in place, and our e-mail was back up by the end of Thursday, around 7:00 p.m.”
Ken Cassar, retail analyst at Internet consultant Jupiter Communications, pointed out that the Love Bug could have posed problems for e-tailers who rely on e-mail to answer customer service queries.
“But most of them tend to separate their e-mail servers from their Web servers,” he added.
At Los Angeles-based Guess Inc., a handful of employees at the New York office received the virus about three hours before the company’s main facility was to open. That gave the information-systems people back at headquarters enough time to catch the bug before it infected everyone at headquarters.
Some fashion concerns took the infection light-heartedly, although admittedly with a bit of confusion when e-mails began piling up on Thursday morning.
“I had four of them on my e-mail yesterday, and so did my secretary,” said John Pomerantz, chairman and chief executive officer of The Leslie Fay Co.
“John Ward [president of the firm] got one from one of our financial partners at Three Cities, which he thought was kind of a strange note, that he would be saying, ‘I love you,’ but we didn’t have any serious problems,” Pomerantz said.
Designer Nicole Miller had heard warnings on the radio and television news before she got bit by the Love Bug, but she accidentally opened a missive marked “Re: Joke” that fit the description of the follow-up virus that emerged on Friday.
“Nothing happened,” she said. “Nobody had a problem here, but afterward I checked everyone else’s e-mail, and no one had it.”
Other design company executives said that, as of Friday, they hadn’t felt the love.
“Yesterday, someone asked me if I had the virus,” said Michael Groveman, ceo of Bill Blass. “I said, ‘No,’ but I thought he was talking about my health.”