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Microsoft offers virus bounty

The Blaster virus caused severe problems
The Blaster virus caused severe problems

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Microsoft has offered a $500,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of the writers of two computer viruses.

The Blaster worm and SoBig.F e-mail virus crippled many PCs running on the Microsoft Windows operating system this summer.

The world's largest software company announced Wednesday that it is creating an anti-virus reward program, backed by $5 million of its cash, to help law enforcement agencies catch the authors of computer bugs, including $250,000 apiece for Blaster and SoBig.

"These are not just Internet crimes, cyber crime or virtual crimes. These are real crimes that disrupt the lives of real people," said Brad Smith, Microsoft senior vice president and general counsel.

But some technology observers are skeptical that the bounty will actually work.

"This could totally backfire," Richard Williams, strategist for Summit Analytic Partners, a research firm that focuses on software, told CNN/Money. "Virus writers are very much driven by the same motivation that makes people climb mountains. To put a bounty on their heads will just increase their notoriety and increase their ego."

Microsoft has been suffering from a score of bad publicity since the outbreak of Blaster and SoBig.F in August and early September.

Another worm, dubbed Nachi, also plagued users of Microsoft software during the summer. During Microsoft's latest quarterly earnings conference call last month, chief financial officer John Connors said that security for its customers was now Microsoft's number one priority.

Steve Jillings, president and CEO of FrontBridge Technologies, an e-mail security firm, said that Microsoft's reward program could help deter some virus writers but added that bounties were not a complete solution.

"This is a Band-Aid that does not fix the core root of the problem. People don't look to Microsoft as a trusted security source," said Jillings.

Microsoft's Smith stressed that the company is continuing to work on enhanced security features for current editions of Windows as well as for the next version of its operating system, called Longhorn, that is due out in 2005.

He added that Microsoft, which had more than $51 billion in cash as of the end of October, would commit more financial resources to the security problem.

"If we need to spend more money, we will spend more money," said Smith.

--CNN/Money Senior Writer Paul R. La Monica contributed to this report

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