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MS puts $250k bounty on virus authors' heads

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Updated Microsoft today announced two $250,000 rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the virus authors behind the infamous Sobig and Blaster worms.

The rewards, part of a larger scheme, were announced in joint press conference with the FBI, the US Secret Service, Microsoft and Interpol in Washington today.

At the conference, Microsoft announced the creation of the Anti-Virus Reward Program, initially funded with $5 million, to "help law enforcement agencies identify and bring to justice those who illegally release damaging worms, viruses and other types of malicious code on the Internet".

Microsoft's program is believed to be the first time financial rewards have been offered in a computer crime case, but rewards for the arrest and conviction of criminals are commonplace in other types of investigations. Microsoft will put up the money for the reward but it will be up to investigators to decide if anyone qualifies for the bounties.

Two people have already been arrested by the FBI for releasing variants of the Blaster worm. One of those alleged virus authors, Jeffrey Lee Parson, was only arrested after a tip-off. It's unclear whether Microsoft's bounty is up for grabs for the individuals who alerted the authorities in this case.

No-one has been arrested for creating the Sobig virus.

Fistful of dollars

Senior Microsoft executives have been placing an increasingly strong emphasis on talking up Redmond's security efforts in recent months, amid concern that the continued tide of Windows-specific security vulnerabilities and viruses might erode Microsoft's bottom line.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has even taken to making Wild West analogies, a line of thinking that's now been taken to its natural conclusion with the offer of a bounty against the cyber criminals responsible for creating Blaster and Sobig.

Will VX writers turn fink for MS?

In August the original Blaster worm infected many unprotected home and business computers and attempted to launch a denial of service attack against Microsoft security update website. The worm exploited a critical security hole in the RPC component of Windows to spread.

Adding insult to injury, the worm contained a message mocking Microsoft chairman Bill Gates.

Just days later the Sobig-F worm, which spread on the Windows platform, bombarded email users around the world. Many companies reported receiving hundreds of thousands of infected emails every day, severely slowing down their email infrastructure.

"Virus writers have damaged Microsoft's reputation by concentrating on writing viruses which spread on Microsoft operating systems. It's no surprise to hear that they are fed up with this situation and prepared to offer a reward for the capture of these virus writers," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos.

"There must be people out there in the computer underground who know who is responsible for the creation of these malicious worms. Offering a total of $500,000 will be a great temptation for someone to break their silence - and do all legitimate users of the internet a favour," he added. ®

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