Teenager arrested in Blaster worm case

A Minnesota teenager will appear in federal court in St. Paul Friday to face charges stemming from the release of a variant of the virulent W32.Blaster Internet worm that ravaged computer systems worldwide earlier this month.

Jeffrey Lee Parson, 18, of Hopkins, Minn., was arrested by federal law enforcement Friday morning, according to U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) spokesperson Bill Murray.

He will appear before federal magistrate Judge Susan Richard Nelson at 2 p.m. CDT Friday at the James R. Dougan Federal Building in St. Paul, Minn., according to Deputy Clerk Mike Chutich.

Parson was tracked down by a joint federal task force that involved members of the FBI and U.S. Secret Service, Murray said.

According to a complaint filed at the court, Parson will face one count of intentionally causing or attempting to cause damage to a protected computer in connection with the release of W32.Blaster-B, a variant of the original W32.Blaster-A worm.

That variant appeared on August 14, three days after Blaster-A first appeared, and was nearly identical to the original Blaster worm. However, Blaster-B used a different file name, teekids.exe, as opposed to msblast.exe, according to antivirus company Sophos PLC.

Teekid was also an online handle used by Parson, according to the complaint, which was filed in the Western District of Washington in Seattle, according to Chutich.

The 10-page complaint lays out Parson’s role in modifying the original Blaster worm and releasing the Blaster-B variant, as well as the process law enforcement used to track the virus back to Parson.

The FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office scheduled a press conference for Friday afternoon regarding the worm, according to U.S. Attorney John Hartingh in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington in Seattle.

Further details about the case will be presented then, Hartingh said.

A copy of the complaint obtained by IDG News Service indicates that federal law enforcement first got on the trail of Blaster-B’s author by tracking down ownership of an Internet domain, www.t33kid.com, that the Blaster-B worm used to download instructions and report on infected hosts.

That chase led from a San Diego Web wholesale Internet services provider, California Regional Internet Inc., to a small Web hosting provider in Watauga, Tex. and, from there, to ISP Time Warner Cable, which provided Parson’s father’s home broadband account in Minnesota.

Time Warner provided the FBI with the location of Parson’s home in Hopkins and federal agents raided that home on August 19, seizing seven computers from the house, according to the complaint.

The results of a forensic analysis of those computers are still pending, but the complaint says that during an interview that day, Parson admitted to modifying the Blaster worm and creating the Blaster-B worm variant, naming it “teekids.exe” after his online name.

Parson further admitted to outfitting the new worm with a backdoor Trojan program, named “Lithium” so that he could reconnect to infected computers.

Blaster-A first appeared on August 11 and exploited a widespread vulnerability in Microsoft Corp.’s Windows operating system.

The worm takes advantage of a known vulnerability in a Windows component called the DCOM (Distributed Component Object Model) interface, which handles messages sent using the RPC (Remote Procedure Call) protocol.

Vulnerable systems can be compromised without any interaction from a user, which helped Blaster spread quickly on machines running the Windows XP and Windows 2000 operating systems.

At the height of the Blaster outbreak, the worm was credited with shutting down the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration.

Virus experts were surprised that an arrest was pending, citing the difficulty in tracing computer viruses back to their author.

“I think it gets back to how they caught him,” said Chris Wraight, a technology consultant at Sophos. “It wasn’t digital forensics, but the human intelligence. The did it the old fashioned way, with human intelligence.”

However, Wraight was not surprised to learn that the suspect in the Blaster-B case was a teenager.

He and others long maintained that Blaster’s blatant copying of proof-of-concept code for using the RPC vulnerability, known as the DCOM exploit, meant that Blaster was the work of a novice virus writer, rather than a pro.

The alleged modification of that code by Parson is typical, Wraight said.

“This clearly shows what happens in the virus world: people take and modify other people’s code and try to one up each other. But most of these guys are not too swift and they get caught because of an error,” Wraight said.

Parsons will be charged with violating U.S. Title 18, section 1030. If found guilty, he could face between five and 20 years in prison and be asked to pay “thousands of dollars” in damages, Murray said.

No specific damages figures were available for the Blaster-B variant, but the complaint refers to more than 7,000 computers being infected with the Blaster-B variant.

In addition, the complaint includes statements by Microsoft representatives that the company “expended significant internal and external (contracted) resources” to respond to the distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack launched by Parson’s worm against the www.windowsupdate.com site, far in excess of US$5,000.