Businessman sentenced after sending virus to competitor

April 02, 2001 Sophos Press Release

A British businessman has been sentenced to community service after deliberately sending a competitor a virus.

According to media reports Paul Brogden, 27, owner of Sure Computers in Bideford, Devon fell out with his friend Colin Baglow, who owned Complete Computers after a price war.

Exeter Crown Court heard how Brogden sent Baglow a computer virus as an email attachment disguised as a price list in April 1999, but the staff at Complete Computers were suspicious and took action to prevent it causing damage on the company's network.

On March 30th Brogden admitted causing an offence under the Computer Misuse Act. Judge Jeremy Griggs of Exeter Crown Court accepted that it was a "childish prank" rather than a serious attempt at sabotage and sentenced Brogden to do 175 hours of community service and confiscated his computer equipment.

"There was rivalry and jealousy because Mr Baglow's Complete Computers was the more successful," said prosecutor Adam Vaitalingham. "In April 1999 the defendant sent an email to Complete Computers attaching details of his new website. The next day Complete Computers replied with another email with the message: 'Nice website, shame about the prices.' Within 30 to 40 minutes of receiving this, Brogden had sent the virus attached to an email sent to Complete Computers. The email said: 'Our latest prices are attached, please take a look.'"

Trevor Davis, speaking for Paul Brogden, claimed in court that Baglow had been able to undercut his rival because he used pirated software: "The problems arose because Mr Baglow was able to unfairly compete on price with his rival through the theft of copyright. My client's behaviour was a childish and impulsive reaction to the email returned to him about prices and you can see why he found it difficult to deal with in an adult fashion. He himself had received the virus and had been able to cleanse it from his system in about an hour. He knew that Mr Baglow would be able to do the same, so this was not a question of sending a terminal virus to a rival. It was going to be more of nuisance value."

Davis claimed that Brogden's business had collapsed as the result of a police raid on his premises and he had been unemployed since.

Sentencing Brogden, Judge Jeremy Griggs said: "With your experience you know just how easy it is for those with the requisite expertise to cause viruses to be spread and the damage they can spread. This appears to have been an isolated childish prank. If I thought there were more serious implications I would impose an immediate and substantial custodial sentence. This was behaviour between rival companies which was unacceptable."

Judge Jeremy Griggs is no newcomer to dealing with computer-related crime having presided over the Christopher Pile (also known as "The Black Baron") SMEG virus case in 1995.