Microsoft ponies up reward money to catch hackers

Microsoft representatives gathered this morning with U.S. and international law enforcement officials to detail the company's offer of reward money to those who help catch the writers of computer viruses and worms.

Authors of Internet worm and virus programs that wreak havoc on computer systems now have something quite tangible to worry about: They have a bounty on their heads.

Representatives from Microsoft, the FBI, the Secret Service and Interpol, an international crime-fighting organization based in Lyon, France, today revealed an initiative to fight cybercrime on an international scale. Microsoft added some heft to the program by contributing $5 million to be used as reward money for those who help catch the writers of viruses and worms.

There will be immediate reward offers of $250,000 for information leading to the capture of those responsible for the Sobig virus and Blaster worm, according to Brad Smith, senior vice president and general counsel at Microsoft.

"The purpose of the reward is to encourage people to come forward," he said. "We think it will be a deterrent."

Three of the six authors of the Blaster variants have been caught, but law enforcement officials are still looking for the writers of the original worm.

The initiative was seen as necessary for many reasons. For one thing, hackers that perpetuate costly attacks on governments and businesses are perceived as heroes among their peers. Oftentimes, vendors and police don't have the support to fight off cybercriminals and cyberterrorists.

But these are serious crimes that must be dealt with seriously through associations, from within the IT industry and from within the law enforcement community, experts say. At least one IT executive was thrilled when he learned about the program. The Internet and underlying infrastructure that supports it are far too important to businesses to be brought down by criminal activity, said Scott Saunders, director of systems technology at Paxson Communications Corp., a West Palm Beach, Fla., broadcast network.

"It's time someone stepped up to put a stop to this," he said. "Thank you, Bill Gates."

Saunders also said that he believes that everyone needs to stop glamorizing hackers, who are breaking the law and creating havoc on critical business systems. "We waste half our time dealing with spam and virus attacks instead of being productive," he said.

Smith said that anyone with information about the aforementioned Internet worm and virus should contact their local FBI office or Interpol. Anyone in any country is eligible for the reward, he said.

One of the challenges for policing cybercriminal activity is that, in many places, there are no laws covering these activities, and even if there are laws, there may be no law enforcement priority, said Peter Nevitt, director of information systems at Interpol, which has 181 offices around the world with direct links to local law enforcement officials.

These are the first steps to having consistent and focused law enforcement internationally and nationally, Nevitt said.

Microsoft's Smith said that the software maker felt it was important to take this initial step, but the company is open to working with others on how to take further steps. "We will follow through and address this as a long-term priority, and if we need to spend more money, we will spend more money," he said.

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