Italian virus writer avoids jail term

A virus writer has escaped jail, but not a €3,000 ($3,800) fine, after creating and distributing a worm that made premium-rate phone calls from infected computers. The worm was created in an attempt to steal more than €100,000 ($129,000).

The 39-year old Italian man wrote the Marq email worm (also known as Voltan or Zelig) which ran up more than 57,000 minutes dialling a premium-rate number terminating in the country of Aruba, 15 miles North of the coast of Venezuela. The attack lasted three days and was only blocked after the man, who then lived in Venezuela, travelled to Italy to increase the number of premium rate telephone connections.

The man was arrested and the Italian financial authorities were able to freeze the money accrued by the worm, which was first sent to a New York bank account, then transferred via Venezuela before ending up in an account belonging to a 'ghost' company in Aruba.

It is thought the unnamed man avoided a harsher sentence because it was his first offence and he co-operated with the authorities in their investigation.

"More virus writers are being caught and convicted than ever before, and the Italian authorities did well to cut this worm's author down to size," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at anti-virus company Sophos. "Increasingly we are seeing viruses and worms which are designed to steal money or resources from the infected computers of innocent people."

The Marq worm arrived in the form of an email with the subject line "The moment is cathartic", written in Italian, directing users to download what was claimed to be a screensaver called zelig.scr. Flavio Oreglio, one of the stars of the Italian TV comedy show "Zelig", is the author of a book called "The moment is cathartic" and it is suspected that this encouraged some Italian-speaking people to download the malicious program.

As reported in SC Magazine here, the Metropolitan Police Computer Crime Unit in the UK are investigating a suspect involved in virus writing and hacking a dating website.

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