Cops Nab Computer Virus Suspect


Wednesday, February 14th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) — A computer hacker turned himself in Wednesday and was charged with spreading the Anna Kournikova computer virus that snarled e-mail around the world, officials said. He was promptly released on his own recognizance.

The 20-year-old from the northern province of Friesland was allowed to go home because the charges weren't serious enough to hold him in jail, a police spokesman said.

The suspect, who was not identified under customary privacy regulations, was detained on suspicion of damaging computer programs and property, which carries a maximum four-year jail sentence.

``The offenses with which he has been charged aren't enough to hold him,'' police spokesman Robert Rambonnet said.

A district court would hear the case ``within a few weeks'' to try and sentence the suspect. His computer was confiscated for investigation, Rambonnet said.

A statement posted on the Web site of the National Police Agency indicated the man was unaware of what he was doing.

``The young man downloaded an existing program from the Internet on Sunday, Feb. 11, and on the same day launched it onto the Internet,'' the document said. ``When he realized what the virus was doing he agreed with his parents to report to the police,'' the statement said.

The Anna Kournikova virus backed up e-mail systems and hundreds of thousands of computers from Australia to the United States.

The virus was traced by the Excite(at)Home computer network to a Dutch subscriber. Dutch police initially said they had no reason to investigate. No suspect had been identified when the man surrendered at the police station in the village of Sneek, 60 miles northeast of Amsterdam.

Police said they were almost certain he was the same person who claimed responsibility for the attack on an Internet site. On Tuesday, someone identifying himself as OnTheFLy, admitted spreading the virus as a warning to internet users to tighten security.

``I admit writing the virus,'' the Feb. 13 letter read.

``I never wanted to harm the people (who) open the attachment. But after all it's their own fault they got infected,'' it said.

The virus arrives as an e-mail attachment named ``AnnaKournikova.jpg.vbs'' and carries the message ``Hi: Check This!'' It promises to deliver a picture of the teen-age tennis star, but does not actually contain a photo.

When the user clicks on the attachment, the virus is released, worming its way into address books and sending itself to everyone on the list, clogging e-mail servers.

In his letter, the alleged hacker described how he passed on the virus. ``I have made this virus with a Visual Basic Worm Generator, written by K Alamar. K. is NOT involved with this worm! I have been using this program because I don't know any programming languages.''

The virus spread rapidly Monday, slowing down e-mail systems and forcing some companies to shut down e-mail altogether. Security experts said it does not permanently damage computers.

The outbreak was largely contained by Tuesday. The virus failed to infect as many computers in Asia as it did in Europe and the United States.

In the 1980s, hackers reportedly routed computer raids on U.S. government systems through the Netherlands to make tracing and prosecution difficult. At the time there was no law against Internet crimes.

The Dutch set up a special unit of dozens of cyber detectives in 1999, after adopting legislation that enabled them to fight online crime.

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On the Net:

http://members.tripodnet.nl/on—the—fly/index.html