'Melissa' suspect appears in court

In his first public appearance since being charged as the author of the Melissa virus, David L. Smith appeared in Monmouth County Superior Court Thursday to hear charges against him.

Wearing a blue suit, white shirt and tie, Smith, 30, of Aberdeen, N.J., said almost nothing as the charges and his rights were read to him at the 10:30 AM PDT hearing. New Jersey authorities have charged Smith with interruption of public communications, conspiracy to commit the offence, attempt to commit the offence and third-degree theft of computer service. All together, the charges carry a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison and a $480,000 (£290,000) fine. Smith was not required to answer the charges during his court appearance. A press conference is scheduled shortly.

Following the brief hearing, Smith retreated to his car followed by a group of camera men and reporters. He made no statement. Smith is yet to answer the charges -- he will enter a plea at a future hearing. But even as he appeared in court Thursday, questions were being raised as to whether he is the actual author of the virus. Jonathan James, an 18-year-old virus analyst from Sweden who's been helping the FBI with its Melissa investigation, claims to have identified a second suspect who he believes was involved in the creation of Melissa. James won't say much about this other suspect, but he will say that the second suspect is a male virus writer living somewhere in Europe -- and that he has already told the FBI exactly where to find that suspect.

James also says that this virus writer speaks German, or some language that's derived from German. Parts of the Melissa source code include words that appear to come from a Germanic language. "I studied his source code and compared it to the Melissa virus source code, and I can see several similarities that are quite striking, and this thing with the German or German-related variables," James said.

Does that mean Smith did not write Melissa? James says he doesn't know.

According to James, it looks like Smith was involved in "posting" the virus, but that he may not be the actual author. Of course, not everyone agrees with James' analysis. Phar Lap Software President Richard Smith, who's also provided information to the FBI, says this new European connection may be nothing major. In fact, it might just be plagiarism. "The most simple explanation here is that the virus writer didn't know how to do e-mail from Word, and borrowed it from someone else," Smith said. "Just because some code was written in German doesn't mean that that person was involved in the actual Melissa virus. It looks more like that code was simply borrowed from them."

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