A federal judge gave Jeffrey Lee Parson the minimum sentence of 18 months in prison yesterday for releasing a version of the Blaster computer...
A federal judge gave Jeffrey Lee Parson the minimum sentence of 18 months in prison yesterday for releasing a version of the Blaster computer worm into the Internet in 2003.
U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman could have sentenced Parson to as many as 37 months — the maximum end of the range agreed to by lawyers on both sides of the case.
Instead, she said she was swayed to a more lenient sentence because of Parson’s history of mental-health problems and because his home life “sounds grimmer than many prison camps I’ve visited.”
She also sentenced Parson to three years of supervised release and 100 hours of community service after he is released. In an effort to get the 19-year-old on a college track, she said he could deduct from the 100-hour requirement any hours spent taking the SAT or ACT tests and attending classes preparing for the tests.
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“You shook the foundation of the system,” Pechman told Parson in court before doling out the sentence. “Because as we launched ourselves into this new world of technology, we assumed it had the same foundation of bricks and mortar that we find in the real world.”
Parson, who pleaded guilty last year, was asked if he had anything to say during the hearing and stepped up to a nearby microphone. A dark-blue polo shirt and tan slacks clung loosely to his heavyset frame, and his hair was trimmed short, save for a small blond ponytail on top.
“I know I made a huge mistake and that I’ve hurt a lot of people,” he said, apologizing to Microsoft and other Blaster victims. “I realize now the effect I was having on a lot of other people.”
Parson was a high-school senior in Hopkins, Minn., in 2003 when he downloaded a copy of the Blaster Internet worm. He had already dabbled in computer-hacking activities, and had launched online attacks against the Web sites of the motion-picture and record industry associations.
He modified the worm, adding a program that would give him secret online access to other computers that were infected, and sent it out over the Internet. Parson’s variant would eventually infect 48,000 computers and cause $1.2 million in damage, according to prosecutors.
Like the original Blaster, Parson’s worm was designed to launch an attack on one of Microsoft’s Web sites that housed patches to fix flaws in software. The idea was that if enough computers could be accessed and commanded to flood the Web site, the site would collapse under the traffic load.
That didn’t happen because Microsoft knew early on about the attack and took steps to prepare for it.
Still, Microsoft was affected by the attempt, and spent more than $1 million investigating Parson’s Blaster variant and helping customers whose computers were infected, its attorney said yesterday. The author of the original Blaster worm has never been caught.
Lawyers in the case have not come to terms on the amount of restitution that Parson should pay Microsoft.
Pechman wondered aloud in court how much of Microsoft’s damages Parson should pay for. In the real world, she said, if a home’s front door was left open and a television was stolen, should the thief have to replace the television, pay for the front door to be nailed shut and pay for a home-security system?
She scheduled a hearing for Feb. 10 to discuss the matter.
In a news conference after the sentencing, Jeffrey Sullivan, chief of the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, bristled at a suggestion that Microsoft may have been partly to blame in the case. The Blaster worm was designed to exploit a weakness in Microsoft’s Windows XP and Windows 2000 operating systems.
“Mr. Parson did this,” he said. “Microsoft did nothing. They are not responsible because somebody caused damage.”
No one in Parson’s family was in court yesterday. Parson’s lawyer, Nancy Tenney, said in court that he never received the attention, guidance and parenting that children require. By the time he entered junior high, he suffered from a mental illness that was so severe he was afraid to leave his own home, she said.
The computer became an escape for Parson, and online he was able to become part of a group of friends without having to leave the house, Tenney said.
“These positive influences that Jeff found in this community clouded his vision,” she said, “clouded his common sense.”
Many details about Parson’s home life were sealed from public access. After reviewing them, Pechman said that if she had known what his circumstances were, she might have suggested removing him from the home earlier.
Pechman said she would require Parson to have mandatory drug testing after he is released from prison, mainly to keep the addictive behavior Parson had shown on the Internet from manifesting itself in other ways.
She also said that during his probation Parson can only use a computer for educational or business purposes.
“We’re not going to have anonymous friends,” she said. “I want you to have real-world friends.”
Kim Peterson: 206-464-2360