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iPhone worm hacker gets death threats, job offers

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The creator of the rickrolling iPhone worm has spoken of possible job offers and death threats since the release of the Jesus Phone malware last weekend.

Ashley Towns, 21, from Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia, told local media he received both threats and offers of possible work a day after he was identified as the creator of what's been described as the first strain of iPhone malware. The malicious code created by Towns changed the wallpaper of jailbroken iPhone devices it infected to a picture of cheesy '80s pop star Rick Astley.

Jailbroken phones have been modified so that they are capable of running non-Apple approved applications. Only users on the Optus network in Australia with jailbroken iPhones and SSH installed were hit by the so-called ikee worm created by Towns. Even so, scores or perhaps hundreds were affected.

Towns describes this as an "experiment" that got out of hand: "I didn't really think about legal consequences at the time. I honestly never expected it to go this far."

For the recently graduated network administration student explaining his actions to his friends and parents has been the least of his problems over the last week. "A lot of random people have been making threats and someone even figured out my mobile number and published it online," Towns told a local NSW newspaper, adding the on the plus side an iPhone application developer has offered him a job interview.

Graham Cluley, the senior security consultant at Sophos, was the first to point towards Towns as the likely creator of the worm, based on comment lines in the viral code and an internet search, and he described the mobile worm written by Towns as riddled with bugs. Even leaving aside the ethical problems of creating and distributing malware, Towns was a poor mobile application developer.

"The worm was a buggy piece of code that leaked data by copying across the wallpaper from other peoples' phones during its infection routine," Cluley explained. "It also tried to scan a far wider range of addresses for other devices to infect than intended, judging by comments in the code."

"Judging by other comments, Towns even shafted his own iPhone during the development process," Cluley added.

Although Cluley condemned Towns actions, he said that Towns didn't deserve jail for his efforts. "Towns is not in the same league as financially motivated hackers who are responsible for the majority of the malware we see today," he said. ®

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