Kournikova virus suspect faces four years in slammer

Remorseful virus writer could still face years behind bars

The Dutchman suspected of unleashing a virus inspired by tennis player Anna Kournikova has been charged and released by Dutch police for computer crimes and faces a possible four years behind bars.

The 20-year-old, a resident of Sneek in the northern province of Friesland, has been charged under a Dutch law related to "disturbing a computer network". He will appear in court on these criminal charges in around three weeks and could face a maximum sentence of four years, Dutch police said. He cannot be named under Dutch privacy laws.

A Dutch police spokesman also revealed that the suspect, who handed himself in to the authorities on Wednesday, was contacted by people from around the world who had contracted the virus.

"He received messages from people from all over the world, Australia, the US the UK," said Friesland police spokesman Harry Oenema. "He was questioned and confessed to what he had done."

The Anna Kourniva virus, also known as VBS/SST, VBS_Kalamar, and VBS/OnTheFly, flared up Tuesday, overloading computer networks around the world. Masquerading as a picture of the Russian tennis star, the Visual Basic virus tricked victims into running it. It then sent itself on to all the email addresses in a target's address book.

The arrested man, believed to be the same individual who posted a confession online on Wednesday, has said that he created the virus to demonstrate the naivety of computer users and did not intend to cause any harm. An IDC report suggested that few computer users have learnt a lesson from the recent virus attacks.

The Kournikova virus is just the latest in a relatively new breed of fast-spreading computer viruses. Melissa, released in March 1999 was the first of these to make a major impact. In May 2000 another virus, dubbed the Love Bug, caused billions of pounds worth of damage.

Combating global computer viruses is becoming the focus of international police forces. The creator of Melissa was charged under US computer crime laws but the 22-year-old computer school student thought to have released the Love Bug is facing charges of credit-card fraud because of there are no computer crime laws in the Philippines "This is not just a problem for Holland," says Oenema. "Every police station around the world is working on it."

Running and updating antivirus software is a complete pain, which is why most users don't bother. Guy Kewney says we know that anybody with a brick heavy enough to break our windows could get into our houses; and that it would cost a fortune to make the house significantly more secure. So we take refuge in statistics -- it's not likely to happen, really; so we'll hope it doesn't. Go to AnchorDesk UK for the news comment.

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