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Webcam virus writer arrested in Spain

Police accuse Madrid man of writing a virus that is capable of spying on people in their bedrooms through their Webcams.

Spanish police have arrested a man suspected of stealing online bank passwords and of writing a virus that is capable of spying on people through their Webcams.

The 37-year-old computer programmer from Madrid, who has only been identified by the initials J.A.S., allegedly wrote the virus and distributed it over a file-sharing network. According to the Spanish Civil Guard, which has not yet revealed the name of the virus, the malicious program was disguised as a music or picture file.

The Spanish Civil Guard said in a statement that the matter was first brought to its attention in July 2004 when a user in Alicante found a suspicious file on his computer and reported it to the authorities. After analyzing the file, Spanish police discovered that the virus was written in 2003 and at the time was not recognized by any of the popular antivirus applications.

According to the statement, J.A.S.'s computer was seized and found to contain "hundreds of photographs and recordings." The Civil Guard said "thousands of computers worldwide" may have been under the suspect's control.

Ben Guthrie, a product marketing manager at security software maker Trend Micro, said that one of the first real backdoor programs was called Back Orifice and released more than five years ago. Currently, there are around 200 pieces of malicious software that use peer-to-peer networks to find their victims, and they often target people who are not knowledgeable about technology, Guthrie said.

"The broadband explosion increased the use of P2P software by users that are not technically competent," he said. "It is quite likely that they put a lot of trust into the files listed by their P2P software. These types of malicious programs install silently so the user thinks that nothing has happened."

Graham Cluley, the senior technology consultant at Sophos, said he expects to see more viruses and Trojan horses that are designed to spy on "innocent home computer owners and poorly protected businesses."

"With many home users keeping poorly defended PCs in their bedroom, there is considerable potential for abuse. If you are in any doubt, unplug your Webcam when you're not using it," Cluley said.

Security experts recently warned that large companies should take care when using networked Webcams and Internet-based security cameras because if they are not properly secured, they could be viewed by unauthorized sources.