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Kournikova virus suspect arrested

Anna Kournikova
The Anna Kournikova virus masquerades as an image of the Russian tennis star  

LONDON, England (CNN) -- A 20-year-old Dutchman who claims to be the author of the Anna Kournikova computer virus has handed himself over to police in The Netherlands.

The man, whose name has not been released, walked into a police station in his home town of Sneek in the northern province of Friesland. He was arrested on suspicion of damaging computer programs and property.

Police said the man was shocked at the damage caused by the virus and told them it was not his intention.

A police spokesman said the man was questioned for several hours and then released. He said that the information obtained was being turned over to the local prosecutor.

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The Dutch attorney general will decide what charges the man will face.

The virus, which masquerades as an image of Russian tennis star Kournikova, first appeared on February 11.

It arrives as an e-mail with the subject "Here you have, :o)". Inside is a message, "Hi: Check This!" and an attachment, "AnnaKournikova.jpg.vbs"

Opening the attachment releases the virus, or worm, into the Windows directory, from where it sends itself to every address listed in the infected user's Microsoft Outlook address book, thereby overloading and crashing e-mail servers.

In addition the virus will automatically connect the infected computer to the Web site of a Dutch computer company, Dynabyte, on January 26 each year.

So far over one million computers worldwide have been infected by the worm -- also known as "VBS," "SST" and "OnTheFly" -- making it one of the most widespread viruses since last year's "Love Bug" infection.

Virus toolkit

Internet security company F-Secure Inc. said it tracked down a man it believed to be responsible on Tuesday night.

"We were not in direct contact with him," said Mikko Hypponen, virus research manager at F-Secure Inc.'s European headquarters in Espoo, Finland. "We just turned over all our information to the Dutch authorities."

On Tuesday one of F-Secure's "informants" alerted them to the presence of an anonymous letter on a Dutch Web site hosted by service provider Tripod.com.

The letter, which is at http://members.tripodnet.nl/on_the_fly/index.html, was written by someone styling themselves OnTheFly, and claimed responsibility for originating the virus.

"I admit writing the virus," it declared. "I'd like you to know I didn't do it for fun."

"From there it was fairly easy tracking him down," says Hypponen. "Typically a guy like this has been active in the Internet underground before.

"They change their names all the time, but by watching carefully you can follow the chain of aliases back and locate the guy in the real world."

Although it was OnTheFly who started the virus, his letter claims that he does not actually know how to programme a computer.

Instead he used a "virus toolkit" known as a Visual Basic Worm Generator to create the virus.

"It's horrifying," says Hypponen. "Someone who doesn't know how to programme can produce a virus that infects hundreds of thousands of computers.

"The blame lies as much with the creator of the toolkit."

Although the Netherlands does have a computer misuse law, it is by no means certain that it can be applied in this case.

Nor is it likely that the Dutch courts will permit the man to be handed over to the U.S., where most of the virus's damage was done.

"It's possible that he will be banned from ever entering the U.S." says Hypponen, "But I can't see him being extradited."

As to why he chose Anna Kournikova as the cover for his virus, the author of the letter explains: "Just because I am a big fan of her. She deserves some attention, doesn't she??"



RELATED STORIES:
Suspect emerges in Anna computer virus
February 14, 2001
New e-mail virus preys on Anna Kournikova fans
February 13, 2001
Kournikova virus slams U.S., Europe, misses Asia
February 13, 2001

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