Kournikova virus maker found guilty

The maker of the Anna Kournikova e-mail worm that spread in February was sentenced on Thursday to 150 hours of community service or, if he chooses not to do the community service, to 75 days in jail.

In addition, a CD-ROM containing thousands of viruses that was confiscated from him will not be returned, the court in Leeuwarden, Netherlands ruled in the first-ever verdict handed down against a virus maker in the Netherlands and one of the few such verdicts ever in the world.

Two weeks ago the public prosecutor asked the court to sentence 21-year-old Jan de Wit of Sneek, Netherlands, to 240 hours of community service and to keep a confiscated computer as well as the disc. De Wit created the nondestructive worm that spread like wildfire for two days in early February with a worm-making toolkit. At trial, he stated that he didn't know what he was doing or what the consequences of posting the virus in an Internet newsgroup could be, but the judges didn't believe him.

"He (De Wit) was not a layman in the field of computer viruses. He works in a computer store and collected viruses, about 7,200 according to himself. The defendant must have been very aware of the consequences of his acts," reads the verdict. "The virus he spread was a hindrance, causing worry and annoyance among Internet users worldwide."

The virus also invaded the privacy of Internet users by accessing the address book on infected machines and using that to propagate itself, the court said.

Damage done by the Kournikova worm was limited, but could have been significant. The exponential spreading could have paralyzed the Internet, and De Wit knew that, according to the court.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) sent the court a report saying it had identified 55 victims that had suffered a total damage of US$166,827. Companies shut down their e-mail systems as a precaution during the propagation, antivirus software vendors said, but that was not mentioned in court.

The sentence could have been harsher if the victims themselves had filed claims with the court, the court said in its verdict. To arrive at the verdict, the court took into consideration that the FBI report was scant on details and that De Wit is a first offender who has expressed remorse and turned himself in to the police, the court said.

De Wit may appeal. His lawyer was not immediately available for comment.

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