China cages brains behind "panda" computer virus

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BEIJING, Sep 25 (Reuters) China has jailed four men for writing or profiting from a computer virus dubbed the ''joss-stick burning panda'' which infected over a million computers, media reported today.

Li Jun, creator of the virus, made 145,000 yuan (19,300 dollars) in scams including selling anti-virus software to combat the virus and was jailed for four years, the Beijing Youth Daily said.

''I didn't expect it to cause so much damage,'' Li was quoted as telling a court in the central province of Hubei. ''I apologise to all the victims of the virus and Internet users nationwide.'' The virus, which could change icons on desktops into cartoon pandas holding three burning joss-sticks, wreaked havoc by deleting files, damaging programmes and attacking Web portals.

Three accomplices were jailed for up to two-and-a-half-years, the newspaper said.

Chinese media have said that the virus was able to steal account names of online gamers and instant messengers, hotly traded with real money in Chinese cyberspace.

China's booming Internet is filled with technology-savvy youngsters, but problems such as addiction, hacking and virtual property theft are on the rise.

REUTERS ARB KP0949

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