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Sophos criticises Mogeneration for hiring virus writer

Sophos : 27 November, 2009  (Technical Article)
The author of the Rickrolling worm which wrote pictures of Rick Astley to jailbroken iPhones in Australia has been hired by iPhone software developer to the dismay of Sophos
Experts at IT security and data protection firm, Sophos, has reacted with bewilderment at news that the author of the iPhone worm which changed innocent users' wallpaper to a picture of Rick Astley has been given a job - by a firm developing iPhone applications.

Earlier this month, the first ever iPhone virus appeared, changing the wallpaper on infected phones to an image of the 1980s pop star, gobbling up bandwidth and Rickrolling jailbroken iPhones.

Although it was written without criminal intent, the worm inconvenienced hundreds of users in Australia. It was estimated that approximately 17,000 - 25,000 iPhones might be at risk of infection. The source of that estimate? A Sydney-based firm called Mogeneration, which is now reported to be hiring Towns to work as a developer on future iPhone applications.

Ashley Towns announced on his Twitter page earlier today that Mogeneration had decided to give him a job: 'Yey! I got the job! I'm now an iPhone application developer!'

Computer security experts, however, are not celebrating. 'It's very important that a clear message is sent out that writing viruses and worms is not cool, and not a route into employment,' said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos. 'It's ironic that the owners of iPhones that have not been jailbroken may now find themselves running code written by a virus writer. Customers of Mogeneration may well ask for an explanation for the hacker's employment - and those who were inconvenienced as a result of his worm may wonder when they will be compensated.'

Sophos notes that a later, more dangerous iPhone worm (which attempts to steal banking information and hijacks infected iPhones into a criminal botnet) used the source code of Ashley Towns' Ikee worm as a template.

'What disheartens me is that Towns has shown no regret for what he did. He admitted specifically infecting 100 iPhones himself, letting his worm loose in the process. Now his utterly irresponsible behaviour appears to have been rewarded. Will Towns be offering a token $5 compensation to those he infected for the inconvenience he caused? I doubt it,' continued Cluley. 'There are plenty of young coders out there who would not have acted so stupidly, are just as worthy of an opportunity inside a software development company, and are actually quite likely to be better coders than Towns who made a series of blunders with his code.'

Ashley Towns is not the first malware writer to have gained career progression from the viruses he has written.

In 2001, the mayor of the town of Sneek in the Netherlands suggested that resident Jan de Wit, who wrote the Anna Kournikova worm, should be considered for employment in the town's IT department. Five years ago, Sven Jaschan, who authored the widespread Netsky and Sasser worms, caused outrage in the IT community when he was hired by a German security firm.

In 2007, the Chinese creator of a virus which changed icons to a picture of a panda burning joss-sticks was offered a job paying a million Yuan ($133,155) salary by a company who had been infected by his malware.

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