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Is hard time for worm author too harsh?

Teenager sentenced to 18 months for writing a MSBlast worm got his just deserts, according to a Web poll. What's your take?

The teenager sentenced to 18 months in prison for unleashing a variant of the MSBlast worm got off easy, a majority of people said in a poll from Sophos.

In January, a federal district court found 19-year-old Minnesota resident Jeffrey Lee Parson guilty of modifying the original MSBlast worm, also known as Blaster, and releasing the variant onto the Internet.

News.com Poll

Just deserts?
Jeffrey Lee Parson got 18 months for modifying the Blaster worm and releasing a minor variant. Was the prison sentence:

Not harsh enough
Just right
Too harsh
Inappropriate--should have been community service

View results

About 53 percent of the 250 business PC users responding to the poll said the sentence was too lenient, the antivirus maker said on Wednesday. Only 14 percent believed the sentence should have been less harsh, and 12 percent said the most appropriate punishment was community service.

The frustration felt by virus victims is likely behind the feeling that the writer of a minor Internet threat should get major prison time, said Graham Cluley, senior security consultant for Sophos. Parson is a visible target, unlike most creators of Internet nuisances, he pointed out.

"What is 18 months going to do for this guy?" Cluley said. "There are much bigger criminals out there on the Internet than Jeffrey Parson."

While the first MSBlast is estimated to have infected at least 9.5 million computers, the offshoot created by Parson infected perhaps 50,000, according to prosecutors' claims. Neither the original worm nor Parson's variant damaged computers, experts believe.

"Launching a worm or virus can hurt the entire global economy and negatively impact people's trust and reliance on technology," Tim Cranton, Microsoft senior attorney, said in a statement. "We support the court's decision on the sentencing. The court considered both the harm caused by Mr. Parson as well as the circumstances surrounding his particular case and we are pleased that the defendant has accepted responsibility for the crime he committed."

The original guidelines called for a sentence of three to 10 years for Parson. Judge Marsha Pechman said the sentence handed down was shorter because of Parson's age and his history of mental illness, and because his parents had failed to monitor his online activities. The judge also sentenced Parson to 100 hours of community service, saying that he had to take part in society.

"I don't want you to have anonymous friends," she said, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney's Office. "I want you to have real-world friends."

The MSBlast epidemic was a major black eye for Microsoft. In tandem with the Sobig.F virus, the threat slammed the infrastructure of the Internet and had system administrators scrambling. Microsoft revamped its fledgling Trusted Computing Initiative soon after the attacks, pushing patches out to customers faster. The software maker also changed its development of Service Pack 2 to focus solely on security.

By comparison, Parson's MSBlast.B was barely a hiccup for most administrators, as defenses against the original MSBlast worm also protected systems against the variant.

MSBlast victims taking part in the poll may have associated Parson with the original attack, Cluley said.

"I think it is a danger that we are using Jeffrey Parson as the straw man for virus attacks," he said.