Virus crackdown: Microsoft sends out the bounty hunters

Hacker community offered $500,000 cash to rat out the virus writers...
Written by Robert Lemos, Contributor

Hacker community offered $500,000 cash to rat out the virus writers...

Microsoft is to offer two $250,000 bounties for information that leads to the arrest of the people who released the MSBlast worm and the SoBig virus.

The two programs attacked computers that run Microsoft's Windows operating system, causing havoc among companies and home users in August and September. The reward, confirmed by sources in both the security industry and in law enforcement, will be announced in a joint press conference with the FBI, the US Secret Service and Interpol that's scheduled for 10:00(EST) today.

The rewards are the first time a company has offered money for information about the identity of the cybercriminals.

The rewards mark the latest move by Microsoft and law enforcement to track down the people responsible for infecting hundreds of thousands of computers in August and September. The US Department of Justice, the FBI and Microsoft had earlier announced the arrests of two men who are suspected of modifying and releasing minor variations of the MSBlast worm.

The attacks were serious enough to hurt Microsoft's bottom line and help security companies post more profits.

MSBlast, also known as Blaster and Lovsan, spread to as many as 1.2 million computers, according to data from security company Symantec. The worm compromised computers that use a serious vulnerability in Windows systems for which Microsoft had released a patch a month earlier.

Peter Lindstrom, director of research for network protection company Spire Security, said: "I think it is not a bad approach to counter the growing activity out there. People might criticise Microsoft for it, but it is a legitimate way to mobilise more folks to start analysing their logs."

Despite nearly three months of intensive investigation, the FBI and Microsoft have only been able to track down two suspected bit players. The rewards seem designed to produce a mutiny in the close-knit circles of the hacker underground.

However, some researchers believed that such rewards might divert attention away from other efforts to add security that might defeat worms and viruses in the future.

One security researcher, who spoke with the condition of anonymity, said: "It doesn't solve the underlying problem of people being able to write worms like MSBlast. It doesn't quite equate accountability with being at the keyboard."

Robert Lemos writes for News.com

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