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Czech virus writer joins anti-virus firm

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Update A prominent former virus writer has secured a job developing anti-virus software. Benny, one-time member of the 29A virus writing group, has begun work as the main developer of Zoner Anti-Virus (ZAV), according to an entry on his home page.

Zoner Anti-Virus is developed by Zoner Software, a small company based in Brno in the Czech Republic, whose main business is graphics and multimedia. Zoner hired Benny to develop security software to protect servers run by Zoner's Internet division.

Although this product is not being sold to end users yet, Zoner's appointment is still controversial. Most anti-virus firms refuse to employ virus writers because it's bad for public relations. In general, the industry wants to distance itself from malware authors and to discourage the idea that writing viruses is a path into a lucrative career in computer security. There's also the concern that potential customers could be put off from buying security software written by someone who once created malicious code.

Zoner Software's response can be found here. It said Benny was skilled and principled and had much to offer the company. The man himself has yet to respond to our email enquiries.

Benny, 22, was involved in the computer virus underground for five years, culminating in his membership of 29A (hex for '666'). 29A is well known for developing proof of concept code not mass mailing viruses.

In an interview with the New York Times Benny said he decided to write a virus designed to infect Windows 2000 two weeks before the release of the OS, his most famous exploit, in order to humiliate the software giant. He claimed never to have released any of the viruses he wrote.

Since that article was published in February, Benny has turned over a new leaf. Although the rehabilitation of virus writers is to be encouraged it's questionable whether even reformed VXers belong in the IT security industry. Anti-virus firms say the skills needed to develop security software are different from those needed to write malicious code. Better for former VXers to apply their programming skills outside IT security, the argument goes.

German security company Securepoint created a similar controversy back in September when it hired Sven Jaschan, self-confessed creator of the notoriously destructive NetSky and Sasser worms, as a trainee software developer. ®

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