Microsoft, the world's largest computer software company, has announced a $5 million reward program for the capture and conviction of those who send malicious computer worms and viruses on the Internet. Microsoft is joining forces with law enforcement agencies to fight cyber-crimes.

Microsoft announced it is offering several cash rewards after two destructive computer programs, the "MS Blast-A" worm and the "SoBig" virus, affected millions of homes and businesses earlier this year.

Microsoft Senior Vice President Brad Smith said releasing a computer virus is not a harmless schoolboy prank, but a very serious crime. "These are real crimes that disrupt the lives of real people. Every part of the Internet community suffers from the criminal act of releasing viruses and other malicious code - businesses, governments, schools, and families in their homes," he said.

Authorities estimate that viruses have cost companies billions of dollars in lost business. Computer attacks can also have much more serious consequences when hospital and police computer systems are hit.

Microsoft is conducting its reward program with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Secret Service. Because Internet crimes know no borders, the international police force, Interpol, is also involved.

Interpol Director of Information and Technology Systems, Peter Nevitt, said computer crimes challenge traditional law enforcement. "Criminals who perpetrate crimes such as launching viruses do so often from the safety of their own country, knowing that the damage that is going to be caused in countries far from them," he said.

Microsoft Vice President Smith said he believes offering a large reward to fight Internet crimes will make a difference. "We need these kinds of steps to help encourage people to come forward and share information. We can not afford to have these criminals hiding behind their computer screens," he said.

Microsoft and law enforcement officials say anyone with information about computer viruses or worm attacks should contact police or Interpol through the Internet at