April Fool's? Techies hunt for creator of malware set to wreak havoc April 1

Computer security experts have been hunting for the creator of a worm called Conficker C that will supposedly damage millions of computers on April Fool's Day. A group of researchers calling itself the Conficker Cabal is in pursuit of the author of the malware and hopes to minimize potential damage to folks who are hit by the worm. Microsoft has even offered a $250,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever is responsible for the worm, which exploits weaknesses in the Windows operating system.

Experts say the malware has probably already infected between 5 million and 10 million computers, but most wouldn't have noticed any real change in their systems. The real problem is expected to occur on April 1 when a master computer is scheduled to take over all those infected computers and wreak havoc. The fallout could include deleting files, shut down Web sites or record keystrokes to gain access to sensitive information such as passwords or financial information.

A worm is a malicious software program designed to automatically copy itself from one computer to another. Once a computer is infected with Conficker C, it stops receiving Windows automatic updates that could protect against the worm.

Although this sounds like a plot for an Austin Powers sequel and some wonder if it's all an April Fool's joke, authorities are taking the threat seriously. But so far security experts say it's unlikely they'll catch the creator of the malware. It also appears that the malicious code is being updated by its creator to keep security experts from stopping it.

Anyone who is thinks their computer may be infected can visit http://safety.live.com for help.

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