There is one good thing you can say about sun-deprived, perpetually wired computer hackers: Their exploits during the past year or so of weaknesses in our computing and Internet technology have taken a subject as inscrutable to "average" Americans as Mayan glyphs and forced the media to pay real attention to a growing problem.
As a result, major media outlets are not only devoting mainstream coverage to Microsoft's latest bundle of software updates for its popular Windows XP operating system, they're also writing "color" pieces about the subterraneans who are making these security updates necessary in the first place.
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Now that Wired and a ton of other publications have done the Adrian Lamo homeless hacker thing to death, Seattle quasi-rivals the Times and the Post-Intelligencer sent reporters over to the federal courthouse downtown to get the details on the guilty plea of Jeffrey Lee Parson, the Hopkins, Minn., 19-year-old who created a variant of the Blaster worm. That's the worm, the prosecutors said, that "infected more than 48,000 computers and caused millions of dollars of damage to Microsoft Corp.," according to the Post-Intelligencer.
More from the P-I: "Dressed in a wrinkled white shirt, black pants and New Balance tennis shoes, Parson -- tall and rotund with strands of long blond hair cascading over portions of a shaved head -- dwarfed his two court-appointed attorneys as he answered questions from the judge. When asked if he understood what he had done, Parson acknowledged the crime. 'I downloaded the original Blaster worm, modified it and sent back out on the Internet,' Parson said. Asked why, Parson said: 'At the time, I wasn't exactly sure.'"
The paper said Parson "pleaded guilty to intentionally causing and attempting to cause damage to a protected computer, a felony that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and $250,000 fine. In September, he pleaded not guilty to the charge. ... In addition to spending 18 months to three years in jail, Parson must pay restitution. [Assistant U.S. Attorney Annette] Hayes did not calculate a specific figure, though she said it would likely be several million dollars."
Several million! As if that weren't enough, Parson has been living with his parents in Minnesota as part of a home-incarceration program, the Seattle Times reported. "He lives with his parents and has been required to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet that tracks when he leaves the house. [U.S. District Judge Marsha] Pechman ruled that Parson doesn't have to wear the bracelet anymore, but that he must continue to be supervised when he leaves the house to ensure that he doesn't access any computers. He hasn't used a computer since he was arrested last August at his home. 'You're not even to look at a computer,' Pechman told Parson."
The P-I noted that much of the hour-long hearing was devoted to the question of electronic monitoring and Parson's mobility. "Parson must receive court permission to attend special activities, usually accompanied by his parents," the paper reported. "Defense attorney Carol Koller argued that the system was too strict and did nothing to prevent him from accessing a computer -- a condition of his pretrial bond. 'A 19-year-old doesn't usually have to go to the mall with his parents or the movies with his parents,' argued Koller. 'There is only so much, when you are 19, that you want to do with your parents.'"
Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Blaster Sender Bound for Prison
The Seattle Times: Blaster Internet Worm Defendant, 19, Pleads Guilty
The Associated Press also covered the plea hearing, offering reaction from Microsoft and some more comments from Koller: "'We appreciate the fact that the defendant has accepted responsibility for the crime he committed,' Microsoft's deputy general counsel, Nancy Anderson, said Wednesday... Koller said that Parson was young when he committed the attacks and that being arrested made him realize the seriousness of his crime. 'He has been exemplary,' she said. 'He has not touched a computer since the day of his arrest.'"
The AP also provided details on the storied history of the Blaster worm. "Different versions of the Blaster worm, also known as the LovSan virus, crippled computer networks worldwide last summer. Parson's variant launched a distributed denial-of-service attack against a Microsoft Corp. Windows update Web site as well as personal computers. The government estimates that Parson's version affected more than 48,000 computers."
Associated Press via washingtonpost.com: Man Pleads Guilty to Sending Out 'Blaster' Worm (Registration required)
Spackle for Your Windows
It's incidents like the Blaster worm's rampage on the Internet that helped persuade Microsoft to release an economy-sized bundle of software fixes for its Windows XP operating system. The company began distributing Service Pack 2 late last week and plans to make it available to everyone by the end of the month. Some early reviews, however, take issue with a number of items in "SP2."