The first person convicted of using a “virus” to sabotage computer records was sentenced Friday to seven years of probation and ordered to pay $11,800 in restitution to the company that had fired him.
The felony conviction and sentencing of Donald Gene Burleson, 40, on state charges of harmful access to a computer could pave the way for similar prosecutions of people who use so-called viruses--rogue computer programs that can destroy information before they are detected--a prosecutor said.
“As far as I know, it’s the first case of this type in the nation,” Tarrant County Assistant Dist. Atty. Davis McCown said, adding that he had spent about three years attempting to get a conviction.
Burleson was convicted on Sept. 19 of the third-degree felony. His lawyer, Jack Beech, said he would appeal. The maximum sentence would have been 10 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
John McAfee, chairman of the Computer Virus Industry Assn. in Santa Clara, Calif., said that the Texas case was precedent-setting and that it is rare for people who spread computer viruses to get caught. McAfee said his organization had documented about 250,000 cases of sabotage by computer virus.
McCown said at the trial last month that Burleson planted the virus to avenge his firing from USPA, an insurance company.