Sven Jaschan, self-confessed creator of the destructive NetSky and Sasser worms, has been hired by German security company Securepoint. He's been offered work as a trainee software developer working on security products, such as firewalls, even though he may go to prison for creating one of the most destructive computer viruses to date. Jaschan was charged this month with computer sabotage. No trial date has been set.
Securepoint technical director Lutz Hausmann says the teenager deserved a second chance. He learned of Jaschan's desire to work in the security industry from an interview in Stern. He wrote into Stern inviting Jaschan to apply; the teenager responded, an interview was set up and Jaschan was offered a job. "He has some know-how but not a high level of skills in software development. He was the best from people who wanted a job," Hausmann said.
The skills needed to develop security software are different from those needed to write malicious code. And how would Securepoint's potential customers feel about buying security software from a company employing the world's most notorious virus writer? "He [Jaschan] did a bad thing but that doesn't make him a bad person. He's interested in making things better. This is positive rehabilitation."
Jaschan has been employed by Securepoint since 1 September but news of the appointment emerged last weekend, taking many in the security industry by surprise.
More clueless than malicious
"I'm sure most people have serious doubts about a security company hiring a virus writer. No doubt Securepoint will have to explain their decision over and over again," said Mikko Hyppönen, director of anti-virus research at Finnish AV firm F-Secure.
"But in a way I'm happy Sven gets a second chance. After all, we really should try to rehabilitate criminals to enter normal working life again and to become a productive part of the society. Just like in real life many companies avoid hiring ex-convicts but everybody agrees somebody should do it. So in that sense we should be glad that Securepoint is doing this."
Hyppönen notes that Jaschan was trying to create a virus that "attacked other viruses written by professional virus writers working with spammers". But his efforts misfired, causing huge inconvenience for many innocent users.
"Sven's viruses removed viruses like Bagle and MyDoom and uninstalled spam proxies such as Mitglieder from infected computers. But of course, his viruses also caused huge amounts of damage - such as Sasser taking down X-Ray machines in hospitals in Sweden," Hyppönen explained. F-Secure concludes that Jaschen was "more clueless than malicious".
Although regarded as a vandal by victims of Sasser, Jaschan has been given a gentle treatment in the German media. This, it transpires, was a key element in him been obtaining work. History provides at least one close parallel.
Jan de Wit, Dutch author of the Anna Kournikova email worm, was invited to apply to his local council by the town mayor. Ultimately nothing came of this but it does show how virus writers can become local heroes.
"It's very important that the security community does not send out a message that writing viruses or worms is cool, or a route into employment," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos." Jaschan is infamous for his involvement in the Sasser and Netsky worm outbreaks - it might have been less controversial if he had found employment in another part of the IT industry." ®
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Kournikova virus kiddie gets 150 hours community service
Welsh virus writer loses appeal
Welsh virus writer Vallor jailed for two years