February 17, 2004 3:13 PM PST

Alleged Belgian virus writer arrested

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A female Belgian virus writer who has allegedly been waging a public and protracted war against an antivirus expert has been arrested and charged by the authorities.

Over the past few years, the woman, who goes by the name "Gigabyte," allegedly launched a number of viruses, all identified by their antipathy toward Sophos antivirus expert Graham Cluley. One launched a game on infected PCs, which challenged readers to answer questions about the man the author had nicknamed "Clueless." Another game required infected users to knock Cluley's head off.


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However, the petty infighting threatened to get out of control, and Gigabyte made few friends outside the virus-writing community.

In total, Gigabyte is believed to have released four viruses to date: Quis, Coconut, Sahay and Sharp.

According to reports, the unnamed Belgian virus writer was arrested by the police in her home town of Mechelen. She has been charged and released.

The police confiscated five PCs and closed down her Web site, on which she had allegedly posted malicious code.

If convicted of a charge of computer data sabotage, Gigabyte faces up to three years in prison and fines of up to $190,471 (100,000 pounds). However, recent court cases that involve virus writers and hackers suggest that she may well escape with a more lenient sentence than the maximum.

The source of Gigabyte's discontent is comments made by Cluley some years ago, claiming that the majority of virus writers are male. Since then, Gigabyte has been on a mission to prove that females can cause just as much havoc as male virus writers.

Ironically, it was that strong streak of the self-publicist in Gigabyte that ultimately led to her undoing.

"It is normally incredibly difficult to track down virus writers, but when they start coming out and boasting about what they are doing, they can often help us to find out where they are," said Carole Theriault, a security analyst at Sophos.

Theriault said everybody at Sophos will be hoping for a sentence that fits the serious crime of distributing malicious code but that the exact nature of the sentence is for the courts to decide. The case for the prosecution will be greatly aided, however, if any companies affected by Gigabyte's creations are to come forward and give the courts an idea of the extent of damage done, Theriault said.

Theriault added: "It's just a shame that (Gigabyte) didn't think to put her brain towards something more useful than virus writing, because she's obviously very clever."

Silicon.com's Will Sturgeon reported from London.

 

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