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Cybernaut

Master criminal or scapegoat?

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For authorities that have been able to bring anyone to justice for a recent series of Internet worms and viruses that cost billions of dollars in damage, Jeffrey Lee Parson was a gift.

Parson took one of the existing worms viruses in circulation called Blaster, and modified it slightly before sending it back out on the Web. In doing so he left his digital fingerprints all over it – clearly a rookie mistake – and was easily apprehended.

About 7,000 computers were infected by his version of the virus, which is a relatively small number compared to other worms and viruses in the pipeline. It was also relatively easy to purge that virus from the Web. If anything, Parson’s worm was an inconvenience.

Still, authorities seem determined to make an example of Parson, in a way holding him responsible for all the other virus and worm programmers that got away.

That’s not to say he should get off scot-free. Even he isn’t saying that. All he wants is for the authorities to keep his crime in perspective.

The media jumped all over the case, and with the help of investigators they painted Parson as your prototypical loner, an overweight, antisocial loser with few friends, sociopathic tendencies, and a criminal streak a mile wide. They depicted him as one of those kids who sits in their parent’s basement on their computers, delighting in the anarchy of hacking and programming viruses – a real nogoodnik.

He could face up to 10 years in prison for his activities and a $250,000 fine.

There’s just one problem with this whole scenario – the real Parson is nothing like the desperate loser depicted in the media. He is friendly, close to his family, not particularly computer savvy, and has been co-operative with the authorities.

Neighbours who were interviewed by news organizations said Parson drove recklessly down neighbourhood streets, when Parson didn’t even have a driver’s license. While he agreed with the assessment he was overweight, Parson said he has lots of friends. He doesn’t drink, smoke or do drugs, and has never had a run in with the police before Blaster.

Parson was approached by the FBI the moment he was identified, according to a story on MSNBC.com, and worked with them to help them find the original author of Blaster. The government agents were nice to him, and he was as helpful as he could be – he really didn’t know anything, he said. The authorities also told him that he didn’t need a lawyer, that as long as he was helping everything would be all right. He was never arrested or even read his Miranda rights.

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