A German teenager confessed on the first day of his trial Tuesday to creating the Internet Sasser worm that waylaid millions of computers around the globe last year, a court official said.
The Sasser computer worm crippled systems worldwide
The spokeswoman for the tribunal, Katharina Kruetzfeldt, said that Sven Jaschan, now 19, admitted during the closed-doors hearing in the northern German city of Verden to unleashing the destructive program in the spring of 2004.
The Sasser worm had struck on May 1 and in less than a week hit thousands of companies and as many as 18 million computers worldwide, forcing some businesses to shut temporarily in order to debug their systems. Posts affected were as far flung as the European Commission in Brussels, Taiwan's postal service and Australian rail traffic controllers.
US airline Delta was forced to cancel several flights and Finland's third-largest bank shut its 130 branch offices in a preventive move to keep the worm from infecting its computers.
A more lenient sentence?
Jaschan was known locally as a friendly high school student until police knocked at his parents' door in the northern village of Waffensen in May 2004.
He was fingered by an anonymous acquaintance, leading authorities to raid his home. They found substantial incriminating evidence -- including the Sasser code on a computer he built himself -- and Jaschan admitted during questioning to designing the worm.
The courtroom in Verden, Lower Saxony, where the trial is taking place
He is now facing charges including sabotage, data manipulation and disruption of public administration. The charges would normally carry a prison sentence of up to five years.
But because he was a minor at the time he launched the worm, Jaschan can expect a more lenient sentence, Kruetzfeldt said.
"If he admits his crime it will be a short trial," she said. "The court must hand down a sentence that can have an educational effect on the young man."
A verdict could come as early as Thursday. Jaschan may also face a series of civil lawsuits.
Virulent and expensive
A computer worm, unlike a virus, does not have to travel through e-mail but can spread by itself to any unprotected computer linked to the Internet.
Sasser attacked through a flaw in certain versions of Microsoft's Windows operating systems -- Windows 2000, Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP -- and forced the computer into an unstoppable pattern of shutting down, then rebooting. It apparently did no lasting harm.
The software giant had offered a 250,000-dollar (210,000 euros) reward for information leading to the arrest of the culprit.German prosecutors have only been able to document some 130,000 euros in damage from Sasser but computer experts say the true figure is in the millions. Many companies have been reluctant to cooperate with the authorities due to image concerns.
Jaschan, whose parents own a computer service company, now works for a German security software firm called Securepoint which specializes in defenses against viruses and worms.
A company representative said Jaschan would remain an employee regardless of the outcome of the trial.