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Melissa author helped Feds track other virus writers

A snitch in time saves jail time

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David Smith, author of the Melissa virus, assisted computer crime authorities in the investigation and prosecution of other virus writers.

Within weeks of Smith's arrest by the FBI in 1999, he was using a fake identity to communicate with and track virus writers around the world, according to court documents released yesterday.

According to these documents, Smith gave the FBI the name, home address, and email address of Jan de Wit (also known as "OnTheFly"), the Netherlands-based author of the Anna Kournikova virus. The FBI passed the information on to authorities in the Europe, who arrested de Wit. The Dutchman was ultimately sentenced to 150 hours community service for his actions.

In 2001, David L Smith is claimed to have assisted investigators in recording online discussions with Welsh virus writer Simon Vallor. The FBI shared the information with British detectives, who arrested Vallor in February 2002. Vallor subsequently pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years imprisonment for computer crime offences earlier this year.

The revelations that Smith had turned informant come in court documents relating to probation bargaining between Smith's New Jersey attorney, Christopher Christie, and Judge Joseph Greenaway, who sentenced Smith to 20 months in prison in 2002.

Christie claimed Smith "provided timely, substantial assistance to the United States in the investigation and prosecution of others," in the court documents, AP reports.

"Both Jan de Wit and Simon Vallor showed extraordinary levels of stupidity, helping the authorities track them down," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos Anti-Virus. "Jan de Wit's Kournikova virus contained his nickname 'OnTheFly'. Unfortunately he also had a website with that name, complete with downloadable images of the tennis pinup. You wouldn't have had to have been Sherlock Holmes to solve that riddle."

"Vallor, meanwhile, appears to have done himself no favours by writing viruses which included messages to his mates, and bragging about his achievements online. Hollywood's depiction of virus writers as geniuses could hardly be further from the truth," Cluley added.

Vallor was released from prison earlier this month, but is being electronically tagged, and forced to obey a curfew which prohibits him from leaving his Welsh home after 7.15pm.

David L Smith continues to serve his sentence in federal prison at Fort Dix, New Jersey. ®

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