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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 September, 2004, 09:30 GMT 10:30 UK
Firm justifies job for virus writer
By Jane Wakefield
BBC News Online technology staff

A German computer security firm has defended its decision to hire the self-confessed teenage author of the Sasser and Netsky worms.

Waffensen town sign
Sven Jaschan was arrested in his home town in Germany
Securepoint said its decision to employ Sven Jaschan offered the German teen a "second chance".

The job offer has certainly reopened the debate about how closely anti-virus firms should work with the people it is employed to counter.

Some anti-virus firms have criticised Securepoint, arguing that it is sending a dangerous message to virus writers.

Poacher turned gamekeeper

Among the reasons Securepoint gives for its decision to employ Mr Jaschan is that at least it will give them insider knowledge.

"If some really professional [virus writer] or terrorist did the same, the complete infrastructure of countries could be wounded," Lutz Hausmann, the technical director at Securepoint, told BBC News Online.

But the old poacher turned gamekeeper argument holds little water with security experts in the UK.

"The skill set required to write a virus is primitive compared to what is needed to write anti-virus programs," said Peter Simpson, director of the threat lab at security firm Clearswift.

Employing a known virus writer will do little to dampen the much perpetuated myth that anti-virus firms are behind virus outbreaks, Mr Simpson added.

Dangerous message

"Virus writer awaiting trial" does not sound like the ideal qualification for a job in the anti-virus industry.

I'm happy that he knows what he has done and he won't do it again. He wants to work as a normal programmer and live a normal life,
Lutz Hausmann, Securepoint
The self-confessed author of the Sasser and Netsky worm, estimated to have caused millions of pounds worth of damage worldwide, is due to stand trial charged with computer sabotage, data manipulation and disruption of public systems.

Mr Hausmann suggested that Mr Jaschan put himself forward for a junior position at Securepoint after seeing in an article in a German magazine that the young man was seeking more gainful employment.

"He was one of the best persons that applied," he said.

"He is a young kid, who did bad things but I think he deserves a second chance."

In an industry desperate to keep one step ahead of the increasing band of virus writers looking for their 15 minutes of infamy, such a generous gesture has not been welcomed in all quarters.

"Ten years ago virus writers tried to get jobs in anti-virus firms but firms would never hire them because it was a dangerous message to send that virus writing would be rewarded with a job in IT security," said Graham Cluley, senior technologist at anti-virus firm Sophos.

He sees no reason why this should have changed and suspects more cynical reasons behind the teenager's appointment.

"If it is because he is a good programmer and deserves a break, then fair enough, but why publicise it?" he said.

"It looks like a cheap publicity stunt."

Looking out for a hero

I Love You computer virus
The Philippines president praised the Love Bug author
Securepoint denies that it needs the publicity and admits that virus writing should not be seen as a qualification for work in the anti-virus industry.

Mr Jaschan has become something of a minor cause celebre in his native Germany, with his own fan club - the Sasser Support Team - claiming that his virus was intended merely as a wake-up call to the world.

He is not the first virus writer to be hailed as a hero. The president of the Philippines thanked the author of the notorious Love Bug virus for putting the country on the map.

And Jan de Wit, Dutch author of the Anna Kournikova worm, was applauded by his local mayor.

It is almost inevitable that Sven Jaschan will become something of a hero to teenagers sitting around in their bedrooms armed with some basic computer skills, said Mr Cluley.

Hollywood does not help, he said, by portraying glamorous hackers in films such as Swordfish and Independence Day as computer geniuses.

But Securepoint's Mr Hausmann argues that Sven Jaschan is not enjoying any kind of celebrity.

He said the young man has been plagued by nasty e-mails, some threatening to kill him, and that his father has lost his job as a result of his son's actions.

"It could be that he has to go to jail for years," he said.

"I'm happy that he knows what he has done and he won't do it again. He wants to work as a normal programmer and live a normal life."


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