HANOVER, Germany – A shy German teenager labelled a “computer freak” has wrought havoc around the world with the Sasser Internet virus he developed at home in a sleepy rural town after being egged on by friends.
German police said on Saturday the unnamed high school student, who only turned 18 at the end of April, confessed to creating the fast-spreading worm but did not appear to have realised the damage it would cause.
He was released but faces possible charges of computer sabotage, a crime that carries a maximum five years in jail, although the fact that he was evidently a minor when the worm was created may affect a court case, prosecutors said.
Although authorities did not provide his name or any details about the teen they labelled a “computer freak”, camera crews and reporters nevertheless swooped down on his home in the sleepy town of Waffensen, population 920.
“The rights have already been sold!” a man who opened the door of the family’s detached home in the western Lower Saxony town of Waffensen told a Reuters reporter. He declined any further comment and closed the door, saying: “Goodbye.”
In the state capital Hanover, police said the teenager seemed taken aback at the extent of the damage he had caused. They said he was trying to create an anti-virus to beat existing viruses, possibly as a challenge to other programmers.
“There are unfortunately these bizarre games. Whether that was the case here will have to be seen,” said Sascha Hanke, a Microsoft executive involved in data protection told a news conference with police.
Authorities painted a picture of a highly intelligent youth who was part of a circle of computer science students passionately involved in software programming. They encouraged him to push his early virus writing efforts further.
Helmut Trentmann of the state prosecutors office said the youth’s interest in programming was stimulated by his family’s small computer business. Friends and neighbours were quoted in German media reports saying he was shy, introverted.
“He was involved in a group of fellow students and he exchanged ideas with students but as far as we know he did the coding work alone,” Trentmann said. “How far others may have acted with him has yet to be seen.”
Microsoft, which has offered rewards for information on the creators of software viruses, was tipped off about the suspect but declined to say whether the call came from his circle.
Police said he had apparently started to become alarmed about the stir he had caused but was surprised when police showed up at his home and confiscated a home built personal computer used to create the worm.
“He had become worried about the impact but he hadn’t reckoned on our turning up,” Heiner Wilhelm, from the Lower Saxony state police office said.