Maker of Anna Kournikova virus to be prosecuted

The man is charged with the spreading of data via a computer network with the intent to cause damage, a crime punishable by four years in prison and a maximum fine of 100,000 Dutch guilders ($70,750) in certain courts in the country. However, because the public prosecutor decided to try the case in a lower court the maximum penalty is six months imprisonment, up to 480 hours of civil service and a fine.

"Trying the case before the lower court implies that the prosecutor feels that a higher punishment is unjustifiable," said Rieneke Kamminga, a spokeswoman for the public prosecutor's office in Leeuwarden, Netherlands.

The accused, who used the nickname OnTheFly -- it is common practice in the Netherlands not to name people who are accused of crimes -- said he created the Kournikova worm in February with a so-called worm generator. For two days the virus, under the e-mail guise of an image of Russian tennis star Anna Kournikova, spread like wildfire and infected hundreds of thousands of computers worldwide, according to antivirus software vendors.

After realising what he had done, the virus author turned himself in to the police in his hometown of Sneek. He was arrested, made a statement, and then released. Police confiscated the man's computer equipment and some poster-sized photos of Anna Kournikova.

The e-mail worm didn't cause much damage, according to André Post, senior researcher at Symantec's Antivirus Research Center (SARC). The worm was programmed to replicate itself via the victim's address book and set the computer up to visit a Dutch Web site on a specific date.

"Kournikova caused some network congestion left and right, but no big system crashes. One or two companies did take preventive measures and shut down their e-mail systems. The material damage is minor," said Post.

The prosecutor's office also said it has no idea of the damage the 20-year-old Dutchman caused.

"We did not get any claims," said Kamminga.

The self-proclaimed virus author will have to appear in court on 12 September. It will be the first case against a computer virus creator ever tried in the Netherlands. The prosecutor's office is convinced it will get a conviction.

"We have an admitting defendant, that makes the prosecutor's job an easy one," said Kamminga.

A conviction would be a rarity and won't deter virus writers, however, according to Post.

"I know of only three convicted virus writers worldwide: two in the US and one in the UK. A conviction in the Netherlands, as with the other ones, won't scare other virus writers. The number of viruses continues to increase," he said. He also noted that, while the virus creator may have acknowledged that he did indeed create the virus, the prosecutor may have trouble proving that he intended to cause damage.

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Joris Evers

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