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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 May, 2004, 12:25 GMT 13:25 UK
Worm boy wonder gives Germany hope
By Clare Murphy
BBC News Online

He faces a prison term - not to mention hefty compensation claims - yet the German teenager whose Sasser worm caused global disruption is being seen as something of a boy wonder at home.

This is where it all began

Disapproval still reigns supreme. But for a country increasingly dubbed the sick man of Europe, where growth is sluggish, unemployment doggedly high and technological skills in short supply, the arrests of both the Sasser creator and another young virus author at the weekend have stirred up a curious sense of pride.

Two years on, Germany is still reeling from the shock of the international Pisa study which placed their school children in the bottom third of 32 industrialised countries in reading, mathematics and science.

"When the Sasser worm infected millions of computers worldwide, the initial reaction of the authorities was that the programmer was probably sitting in the US or Russia," says Thomas Winkler of the Berlin daily Tageszeitung. "But what we have learnt from this episode is that German school students do not in fact live up to the reputation which the Pisa study bestowed upon them."

"The worm which brought a not inconsiderable proportion of the world to a standstill, stopped aeroplanes from taking off, paralysed a third of Taiwanese post and the European commission, originated from the first floor of a brick house in a back of beyond town with just 800 inhabitants."


There is certainly a distinct tongue in cheek element to these glowing appraisals.

Yet the tale of the youngster - who created the virus at his home in the tiny town of Waffensen - has nonetheless been seen as a salutary one.

As the son of a computer repair shop owner, he spent much of his time with machines, and had been trying to get a job which would allow him to continue with his hobby.

But according to a number of reports, none of his applications came off.

Are we underestimating the potential of our children?
Andreas Oswald

This has prompted a series of tirades against underinvestment in the youth of Germany, a country which was the first to start offering visas to high-tech workers from outside both Germany and the EU - particularly from India.

"Children not Indians used to be the cry," says the Tagesspiegel's Andreas Oswald - referring to a pro-natal, anti-immigration slogan once employed in a German election campaign.

"Could it now be the case, that our children are the Indians of tomorrow? That we are underestimating the abilities of youth and the potential of our children, and fundamentally failing to appreciate their interests?"

High hopes

Others are however less impressed by the young man's skills - noting that his launch of a new version meant to limit the damage wreaked by the first three failed spectacularly.

''He did it with good intentions, but it had exactly the same damaging effects,'' said Sascha Hanke, a Microsoft data protection official in Germany.

His exact motives for unleashing the virus are still under scrutiny, although investigators have all but dismissed the heart-warming suggestion that it was done to help drum up business for his mother's computer repair shop.

He has been released pending charges, and faces a five year prison sentence when he stands trial - probably in June.

The fact that he was 17 when the crimes were committed is likely to mean a lesser sentence.

But whether on the prison computer or back home in Waffensen, there are high expectations for the country's new boy wonder.

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