Computer virus group arrested

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The Independent Online
POLICE have arrested Britain's first computer virus-writing group in an operation they hope will dampen the aspirations of any potential high-tech criminals.

Four members of the Association of Really Cruel Viruses (ARCV), were raided last Wednesday in a joint operation in four cities co-ordinated by Scotland Yard's computer crimes unit.

The arrests in Greater Manchester, Cumbria, Staffordshire and Devon and Cornwall, bring to six the members of the group that have been tracked down by police. Two others, also writing for ARCV, were arrested a month ago in Manchester.

The six are thought to have written between 30 and 50 relatively harmless viruses, distributed via electronic message centres known as 'bulletin boards'. They apparently started sending out malicious computer codes just after Christmas.

Police at the computer crimes unit said they had not heard of any of the viruses causing damage in the United Kingdom, although some are known to have been spread as far afield as computers in Ohio in the United States.

Detective Constable Chris Pierce, of the computer crimes unit, said yesterday: 'This is the first group we have come across in the UK that was actually set up to write viruses and distribute them. Most virus writers are not from these shores, and we are not aware of any other groups operating in Britain.'

Jim Bates, an expert virus hunter who advises Scotland Yard, said Britain's legislation scares off most potential virus writers. 'This may, in fact, be the first group of virus writers arrested in the world. Britain is in the lead in legislating against computer crime. Other countries cannot arrest the writers themselves - they can only close bulletin boards and stop viruses being distributed.'

The group had set up its own bulletin board on a computer in Redruth, in Cornwall. This was shut down in last week's police operation.

Mr Bates said the virus-writing community keeps in close contact, and he hoped the successful raids might lead to further arrests elsewhere.

'At the very least this will send out a very strong warning to virus writers in other countries,' he added.

The members of ARCV have all been released on bail and no charges made. The computer crimes unit is keeping the equipment it seized and has sent the viruses to be analysed to establish the exact nature of the damage they were designed to cause.