Thursday, August 21, 2003

Capitalism and the Law: Spread of 'Sobig.F' Virus Is Fastest Ever

Anick Jesdanun, AP Internet Writer reports that the 'Sobig.F' virus is the fasted propagating computer virus ever.

MessageLabs Inc., which scans e-mail for viruses, said that within 24 hours it had scanned more than 1 million copies of the "F" variant of the "Sobig" virus, which was blamed for computer disruptions at businesses, colleges and other institutions worldwide.

The previous record was "Klez," with about 250,000 copies spotted during its first 24 hours earlier this year, MessageLabs chief technology officer Mark Sunner said Thursday.

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Sobig does not physically damage computers, files or critical data, but it tied up computer and networking resources, forcing networks like the University of Wisconsin-Madison to shut down outside access to its e-mail system Wednesday.

"We were removing 30,000 bad e-mails an hour," said Jeff Savoy, an information security officer at the school.

In India's high-tech city of Bangalore, dozens of cybercafes shut down and home computers blacked out. Some cafes were hit because their service provider was affected, but others got the virus in their machines using Windows operating systems.

"Our cybercafe has been down since Tuesday night," said Afar, a cafe manager in north Bangalore who goes by a single name. "Customers are returning home disappointed."

The owner of one of the Internet's most popular e-mail lists, technologist David Farber, was livid about Sobig.

"I got 1300 junk e-mails `delivered' this AM," he said in a message to subscribers Thursday. "Find the person and put him/her in jail."
What exactly should the punishment be for unleashing a computer virus?

According to, in 2002, David Smith pleaded guilty to creating and unleashing the Melissa computer virus -- the first major virus spread by e-mail. Smith, whose virus caused more than $80 million in damage, was sentenced to 20 months in federal prison.

A computer virus is a pre-meditated attack on the property of others. 20 months for $80 million in property damage--how about 20 years?

The person who created the 'Sobig.F' virus, with its own e-mailing software, clearly hoped to disable the Internet as a whole. If the hundreds of infected e-mails I’ve cleaned off my computer are any indication of what others face, this person has done a good job of it. If this computer virus ends up being linked to Bin Laden, I would say that this was an attack on the civilized world. If this virus ends up being linked to a 40 year old man in his underwear working out of his mom’s basement, I’m almost inclined to hold him in the same contempt. You should not be able to destroy mountains of wealth and walk away from your crime in less than two years.

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