On February 11, 2001, a 20 year old Dutch student named Jan de Wit unleashed the infamous worm virus known as the “Anna Kournikova Virus” onto the world. On that day in February, using the handle “OnTheFly,” he posted the worm into a newsgroup and it quickly began doing its work.
Soon after, emails started flooding inboxes of Microsoft Windows users with the subject line “Here you have, ;0)” with the message “Hi: Check This!” and attached was an infected file called “AnnaKournikova.jpg.vbs.” Once opened, the worm rather than actually display a picture of the beautiful tennis star, would instead go into the users Outlook client and email all of the contacts in the address book.
Since this was the early days of the internet, it was not uncommon for users to automatically open all emails without any suspicion of malware like we are trained to do today–some of us better than others. It was one of the great early examples of social engineering in that men and women alike were so interested in seeing what might be either a lurid picture of the then mega famous Kournikova or perhaps an unflattering photo, proving the tennis stars less than goddess level humanity, that they clicked without thinking. Whatever the motivation, the hook worked!
The worm itself was written using a Visual Basic worm generator designed and distributed by an Argentinean programmer named [K]Alamar who himself was only 18 years old at the time. It was said to have only taken de Wit (a novice) a few hours from downloading the generator to building the virus and disseminating it onto the newsgroup.
While the virus did no actual harm to people’s systems, it did have an effect on millions of users around the world and owing to the volume of the emails had a serious effect on overburdened email servers. Although damages were said to have been nowhere near the level of those caused by The Melissa Virus (estimated at $80 million) and the I Love You Virus, but this was still a very serious worldwide incident.
In seeking the identity of the user known as “OnTheFly,” the FBI actually used the services of David L. Smith, the maker of the Melissa virus, who at the time was working undercover for the FBI.
On February 14th 2001, de Wit confessed to his family and hometown authorities in Sneek, Holland that he had written the virus. At his trial he claimed to have done it “without thinking” and meant no serious harm.
In September of 2011, De Wit was sentenced to 150 hours of community service, despite the fact that he could have been given up to 4 years in prison and a fine of roughly $41,000 (U.S). He appealed the verdict and lost.
- De Wit had a virus collection in which he was said to have 7,200 viruses stored.
- The weekend after de Wit’s confession, the mayor of Sneek told the media that he was happy with the attention the virus was bringing to the town and suggested that he would be open to hiring de Wit after he had completed his studies.
Sources Used For This Article:
- Security Focus – Kournikova virus author loses appeal
- TheRegister – Anna Kournikova virus spreading like wildfire
- Naked Security – Memories of the Anna Kournikova worm
- TheRegister – Anna Kournikova virus author stands trial