Letters from. Uppsala Vanity Dare Mystifies FBI's Young Anti-Hacker

Article excerpt

When the Federal Bureau of Investigation was desperate to track down the source of the Love Bug computer virus last month, it turned to a shy 19-year-old Swedish student for help.

Jonathan James came under the media spotlight after he helped the world's most famous crime-busting agency trace the origins of the virus that caused billions of dollars in damage to computers around the world.

But right now he is more interested in getting through his school exams and enrolling in law school later this year.

In recent weeks, more than 150 foreign journalists have called James or travelled to his home - a country cottage a short distance outside the university town of Uppsala - to get his story.

Unfazed by the media attention, James concentrates on finishing his school exams this month and is setting up a joint venture for computer security solutions.

The journalists are not the only ones to court James.

The FBI calls him several times a week to discuss security issues and ways of tracing computer hackers.

The first time they contacted him, he said, was when he had tracked down the creator of the Melissa virus in 1999 - something the FBI still have not acknowledged officially.

'Well, I suppose it's hard to admit someone else did their job,' said James.

He recalls how they seemed to expect him to be honoured by their call and spoke to him condescendingly.

'But I called them by their first names and that cooled them down,' he says.

James is not interested in hacking or computer games, and denies that he is working on a new virus.

With the media frenzy surrounding Melissa still fresh in his mind, he told the FBI he would not help track the Love Bug when it emerged at the start of May.

'I had decided that this time they would have to do it on their own, but then I had a few hours left over on the Sunday,' he says.

James decided to try to find out who was behind the virus when another Swede pointed the finger at a German student.

Within hours, he had gathered information on some well-known hackers' styles of programming and found one with elements like the Love Bug. …