11 May 2004
BREMEN – While outraged victims of the Sasser worm were preparing damages against a computer-obsessed German teenager, authorities remanded in custody a second German, 21, who devised an even more dangerous virus dubbed Phatbot.
A senior public prosecutor said Sven J. may escape formal punishment because he was arrested on Friday, only a day after his 18th birthday. Since the alleged crime of computer sabotage was apparently committed before Thursday, J. must be tried as a juvenile.
Helmut Trentmann said, “Although retribution plays a role, German young persons’ courts are mainly concerned with correction.” That means the punishment does not have to fit the crime, and even short terms of detention can be commuted if the youth shows remorse.
An adult committing computer sabotage in Germany can be sentenced to up to five years in prison.
The prosecutor, in the small town of Verden, between Bremen and J.’s home in the village of Waffensen, said inquiries had been received from all over Germany about where to file damages suits against the teenager.
“Mainly from smaller firms and private individuals,” he said.
“If everyone sues, he’s got nothing left to live for,” commented Christoph Fischer, a German computer security expert.
But Juergen Schmidt, another virus specialist, told German computer magazine CT he did not expect big firms to sue because that would show up their computer security departments as incompetent: “If they were caught out, there must have been internal bungling.”
Microsoft released a patch last month to protect computers, shortly before Sasser was released and began infecting Windows XP and Windows 2000 worldwide. The virus, or countermeasures, hit a German bank, a U.S. airline, a coastguard and the European Commission.
J., who was attending trade-training school to become a software technician, was described by neighbours as someone whose only topic of conversation was computers. He reportedly admitted writing the virus when police searched the home of the family of seven.
He was released without bail the same evening. Police are combing the hard drive of his confiscated computer for evidence.
In a related development, a court in southern Germany remanded the 21-year-old man in jail on charges of circulating a worm, Phatbot, that piggy-backs on Sasser to take control of personal computers, making them send spam mail and disclose confidential files.
Sasser by contrast was mainly a nuisance, overloading the Internet and causing personal computers to automatically shut down when they were hooked up to the Internet. Unlike earlier viruses, it does not use e-mails to spread. A prosecutor in Waldshut-Tiengen said the 21-year-old, detained Friday, could flee the country or tamper with evidence if released.
He had admitted programming an earlier version, Agobot, in concert with friends across Germany, and said the group renamed it Phatbot when it became more sophisticated. His arrest followed a tip-off from US online crime authorities.
Phatbot reported attacked enterprise computers in Britain and the United States last year. Prosecutors said it could silently take copies of files, circulate spam or mount bombardment attacks that can knock out third-party computers by overloading them.
Despite the two arrests, both self-replicating viruses are still on the loose, mainly attacking people who find virus protection too difficult or believe an attack could never happen to them.
Subject: German news