War of the worms

Monday, 25 August 2003, 10:16 AM EST

The hunt is on. Teams of FBI experts are poring through computer databases in the United States, tracking a shadowy quarry through cyberspace. They do not know their target's name but they do know he is clever and that he must be stopped.

He is a virus writer and mastermind behind the fastest computer virus ever devised. His creation spread its tentacles around the globe last week, smothering countless computer systems with its sheer weight of email traffic. It was called SoBig F, and it lived up to its name by becoming so huge that by the end of the week one in 15 emails across the entire world was coming from the virus.

But the identity of SoBig's creator, like so many in the world of computer viruses, remains a secret. He could be a teenager, holed up in a bedroom and nursing a juvenile grudge against the world. Or the virus writer could be on an ego-trip: simply wanting to see his creation dominate the world's computer systems. He could be a criminal, working in the pay of 'spammers' who send mass junk emails across the world and who want to learn new techniques from the virus's astonishing speed.

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