'Black Baron' a self-taught whiz-kid

Peter Victor studies the background of the man who caused computer chaos
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The "Black Baron", who spread computer chaos around the world, was a self-taught computer whiz-kid who used a personal computer to write viruses that caused more than pounds 1m damage and are almost certainly still attacking computer systems. Christopher Pile, a 26-year-old with no qualifications who lived alone in Plymouth, used his natural talent with computers to create infamous viruses called Pathogen and Queeg, based on expressions used in Red Dwarf, the BBC's cult television series.

Pile was the most dangerous of a small band of virus writers in Britain. He was also the most infamous, with his viruses posted on Internet sites around the world. David Emm, senior technology consultant at S&S Software, a computer virus and security firm, said: "If people are intelligent enough to do this sort of thing, why don't they go down fruitful paths." Several hackers have gone on lucrative positions in "poacher turned gamekeeper" roles in software companies.

Pile did not take this route. Instead, Exeter Crown Court heard that he designed Smeg to defeat the most sophisticated anti-virus program, and achieve maximum penetration causing the greatest amount of damage.

In a police interview, Pile said he wrote the viruses to increase his self-esteem, and because he was disappointed there was no effective viruses in circulation written by a UK virus writer.

The viruses devised by Pile, who signed them from Black Baron UK 94, were the two most sophisticated ever written.

What made them doubly dangerous was another virus, an encryption engine, or code-scrambling system, he called Smeg, which could be attached to the other viruses. On each infection Smeg would change its form, producing as many as four million different versions.

Pile spread the viruses by hiding them in innocent-looking computer games - and even in a piece of anti-virus software - which users around the country downloaded from electronic bulletin boards, unwittingly infecting their own systems.

Every time a piece of his software was run, one of the viruses attached itself to files and expanded them - a process which eventually used up all the system's memory, rendering it completely unusable.

Pile encouraged other computer buffs to write their own viruses and use his Smeg virus - which he made available on bulletin boards.

A third version of the Smeg engine enabled it to exist as an independent entity which could be passed on to others for inclusion in their viruses.

Smeg was available on the Internet in the United States and Germany, and had reached criminal elements in Northern Ireland and the US, Brian Lett, for the prosecution, told the court yesterday. "Some future damage is inevitable," he said. "Its effect is incalculable."

Mr Lett added that as part of the investigation police had gone to a house in Belfast where they found a computer bulletin board, called Illegality The Unstoppable Crime Machine, with a version of Smeg on it.

He told the court that Pile had designed two damaging and destructive viruses with the intention of releasing them to the public communications network.

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