- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Troublemaking computer geeks beware: Microsoft is placing a bounty on people who write and send viruses across the Internet.

The world’s largest software company said it will provide $5 million to a reward program designed to help law enforcement officials catch the people responsible for damaging computer systems with worms and viruses, commonly called “malicious codes.”

It will offer separate $250,000 rewards to anyone offering information on the creators of the “SoBig” and “Blaster” viruses that crippled some computer systems this past summer.

“These are real crimes that hurt a lot of people,” said Brad Smith, Microsoft’s senior vice president and general counsel. “Those who release viruses on the Internet are the saboteurs of cyberspace, and Microsoft wants to help the authorities to catch them.”

The FBI and other law enforcement agencies have had little luck in catching the writers of several of the most damaging malicious codes. Two arrests were made in connection with variants of the “MSBlast,” or Blaster worm, including an 18-year-old high school student in Minneapolis. But the person responsible for writing the original version of the worm is still at large. Officials also are looking for anyone responsible for the SoBig virus and several of its variants.

“What this [program] does is it shows the government’s seriousness in stopping malicious code,” said Cary Natchenberg, a chief architect in the research department of Symantec, a Cupertino, Calif., Internet security firm. “This is a great start. Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars is a lot of money and it demonstrates that they mean business.”

Mr. Natchenberg said most malicious-code writers are young people who would be willing to snitch on friends and fellow code writers for the chance at a large sum of money.

Analysts said it is in Microsoft’s best interest to stop the spread of worms and viruses. The company produces the computer operating system used by more than 90 percent of computer users and has been blamed by some security experts for failing to make its systems more secure. Most worms and viruses spread across the Internet using vulnerabilities in Microsoft software.

The company offers software patches to protect against attacks and usually discloses vulnerabilities when they are discovered, and it has spent millions of dollars to improve its systems.

The Blaster worm spread to several hundred thousand computers internationally beginning Aug. 11 by targeting holes in Microsoft Windows NT, 2000 and XP operating software. The virus caused many systems to mysteriously restart or crash, and forced the temporary closing of many offices including the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration.

The SoBig.F virus spread about a week after Blaster, entering into e-mail systems and spreading millions of messages by hijacking the address books of e-mail users. The messages often featured misleading subject lines including “Re: Your Information” and “Re: You’re Approved.”

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