updated 5/8/2004 2:46:48 PM ET 2004-05-08T18:46:48

A German high-school student has confessed to creating the “Sasser” worm that generated chaos across the globe by infecting hundreds of thousands of computers, authorities said Saturday.

The teenager, whose name was not released, was arrested Friday in the northern village of Waffensen, where he lives with his family. In a search of the suspect’s home, German investigators confiscated his customized computer, which contained the worm’s source code.

“As a result of the student’s detailed testimony about the viruses he spread, he has been identified clearly as the author,” the state criminal office in Hanover said in a statement. Spokesman Detlef Ehrike said he is being investigated on suspicion of computer sabotage, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

After being questioned, the teenager was released pending charges.

The worm raced around the world over the past week, exploiting a flaw in Microsoft’s Windows operating system.

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Microsoft said informants contacted it on Wednesday, offering information about the worm’s creator. The company’s investigators worked with German authorities, the FBI and Secret Service agents, tracing the virus by analyzing its source code, said Brad Smith, Microsoft’s top lawyer.

Smith did not say how many people came forward or explain how they got their information.

“These were individuals who were aware of who the perpetrator was,” he said in a conference call. “They did not stumble on this simply through technical analysis.”

Unlike many infections, Sasser does not require users to activate it by clicking on an e-mail attachment. Once inside, the worm scans the Internet for others to attack, causing some computers to continually crash and reboot.

The teenager told officials that his original intention was to create a virus called “Netsky A” that would combat the “Mydoom” and “Bagle” viruses, removing them from infected computers. In the course of that effort, he developed Sasser.

“The student did not give any thought to the resulting consequences or damage,” investigators’ statement said.

Disruptions worldwide
On Monday, the worm hit public hospitals in Hong Kong and one-third of Taiwan’s post office branches. Twenty British Airways flights were each delayed about 10 minutes Tuesday due to Sasser troubles at check-in desks. British coast guard stations were forced to use pen and paper for charts normally generated by computer.

Sasser is known as a network worm because it can automatically scan the Internet for computers with the security flaw and send a copy of itself there.

Four versions
The German government’s information technology security agency said there were four versions of Sasser.

“The first version was amateurish,” spokesman Michael Dickopf said. However, the others “were clearly different in the damage they caused.”

Police said the German teenager was responsible for all the versions, in addition to variants of the Netsky virus.

Microsoft investigators told the informants, who had asked whether they would be eligible for a reward, that they would consider paying $250,000 if the information led to the arrest and conviction of those responsible. Smith said the arrest was a sign that such rewards work.

“We believe this is an important step forward in the industry’s ability to fight malicious code on the Internet,” he said.

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