Microsoft today recast itself as the Sheriff of the Internet, making two rewards of $250,000 for information leading to the arrest and detention of two notorious online criminals - namely, the varmints that wrote the MSBlast worm and SoBig virus.

“I’m a gonna git them boys,” said sheriff Brad Smith, also senior VP and general counsel of Microsoft at a meeting in Washington town hall. “Ain’t nobody bringing down our good name.”

His mean-looking posse included Keith “Hatchet” Lourdeau (deputy assistant director, FBI Cyber Division), Bruce “Blinkers” Townsend (deputy assistant director of investigations, Secret Service) and Peter “Brit” Nevitt, director of information systems, Interpol.

All of them were agreed that “hackers” who wrote computer viruses may be treated like folk heroes but they are CRIMINALS, and they ruin YOUR GRANNY’S life, and must be brought to justice.

Microsoft has put forward a $5 million pot to “help catch, prosecute and convict those that break the law”. It will decide when, and how much, to offer each time the various wanted posters are put up. They are using old-fashioned as well as modern methods to tackle this modern plague, we were told.

The MSBlast worm and SoBig virus have caused millions of dollars of damage, Sheriff Smith reminded us, so we need to catch 'em now. For those thinking of turning in the no-good devil though, please be reminded that it is the MSBlast.A virus writer they want, not the B or C version. Sheriff Smith didn’t specify which of the SoBig writers he wanted (where are we up to - F?).

We are assuming as well, of course, that there is only one bad bad virus writer and he doesn’t have a gang. After all, collaboration is not something that the Internet is very good at. However, if there is a gang, we must assume that you need to hand over the whole lot of 'em to get the reward.

We were then treated to the philosophies of the Sheriff’s posse. Hatchet from the FBI don’t know much but what he do know is that he hates those hackers right down to his bones. If he had his way they’d all be strung up but Sheriff Smith says they have to be given a fair trial.

“Blinkers” from the Secret Service was, well, terrifying. Pointing out that his department is now moving to the new department of Homeland Security, he has definitely caught the current US administration’s sickness. Rather than just trying to track down the criminals after they caused the crime, he’s all for a “proactive effort” to protect us in our homes before any damage is done. He is going to ask for “regime change” as soon as he figures out what the regime is that needs changing.

Fortunately, Nevitt of Interpol is the quiet thinker. He spoke of how viruses and worms have been recognised as a key priority because of the disruption they can cause to vital services as everything is run by computers these days. The Internet does not have borders, so people need to work together. He is planning a big meeting to get governments, and companies other than Microsoft, interested in working together to defeat such problems.

Sheriff Smith didn’t like the sound of that. It’s fine creating a $5 million fund to show how seriously you’re taking this security stuff - who knows you may even catch a criminal - but the idea of an industry-wide, organised security fund? You got the feeling that Governor Gates had made it clear to the Sheriff that this was his show and no one else was getting involved.

Does Microsoft really expect this bounty approach to work? Unfortunately, no one asked. However, someone did question whether the $5 million would be better spent by Microsoft on improving its current software and platform so the worms and viruses couldn't cause such disruption in the first place.

Fortunately for us, Sheriff Smith pointed out why this was a damn fool question. You see, not only is Microsoft constantly working on making its software as secure as possible, it is also trying its very best to educate all us idiots about why we need to buy additional software, like firewalls, and download 20MB patches every fortnight to protect ourselves. Seems we still haven’t got it.

Incredibly, this reward scheme comes on top of all that effort that Microsoft is already putting in. See? Microsoft really can be trusted when it comes to this security stuff.

We also learned that virus and worm writers don’t target particular software or platforms, they just want to cause as much disruption as possible. But surely that’s a pile of horseshi... “Now you just settle down partner,” said Sheriff Smith, his gun drawn and aimed at the head of the naive reporter. “We all need to work together if we’re goin' win this battle.”

And with the intriguing insight from Lourdeau of the FBI that you can’t measure success in the cyberworld by the number of people you actually capture and prosecute (that would surely be too tangible for a medium such as the Net) they rode of into the sunset, in their unending quest for the baddies.

Thank god Sheriff Smith is in town. We can all sleep soundly in our beds again.