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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 April, 2003, 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK
Spammers and virus writers unite
Wave at sea, Eyewire
A tidal wave of spam could be flooding from your in-box
Spammers are turning to tactics favoured by virus writers to get their unwanted messages into circulation.

Anti-spam activists have found that some unscrupulous spammers are hijacking the e-mail accounts of innocent users to send millions of messages.

The spammers take over the accounts using malicious e-mail messages that resemble computer viruses.

As efforts to beat spam accelerate, many junk marketers are keen to cover their tracks and hide the real origin of the messages they want to send.

Message flood

As governments, companies and net service firms unite to tackle spam, the number of insecure internet relays and mail gateways available for spammers to use is diminishing.

This has driven some desperate junk mailers to start creating virus-like programs that take over someone's e-mail account and use it as a funnel for millions of messages.

Like many other viruses these programs exploit weaknesses in Microsoft's popular Outlook e-mail package.

One of the first hijacking programs to emerge was called "Jeem" and hid within it an e-mail engine so it could efficiently route messages via an infected computer.

Another, dubbed Proxy-Guzu, arrives as a spam message with another file attached.

Clicking on the attachment makes it contact a Hotmail account with information about the infected machine making it possible for someone to route mail through that computer.

Any attempts to trace the original source of the flood of spam sent out by this method will only return the net address of the innocent computer used to send it.

The Monty Python team, BBC/Python Pictures
A Monty Python sketch led to unwanted mail being called spam
"Spammers are beginning to use virus-like techniques to cover themselves," said Larry Bridwell, content security programs manager at researchers ICSA Labs.

"Spam is one of the two things that the security industry is going to be asked to deal with," he said, "The other is adware or spyware."

Many businesses have their e-mail vetted before it is delivered to employees to stop viruses striking.

Some companies, such as Blackspider Technologies, are starting to offer e-mail filtering services that block both viruses and unwanted commercial messages.

Net-based technology magazine Security Focus was the first to write about the spam trojans.

Programs like this are called trojans because, like the wooden horse of antiquity, they conceal a pernicious payload inside an innocent looking wrapper.

Similar techniques have been used by malicious hackers who want to carry out denial-of-service attacks.

Staging such an assault involves the recruitment of hundreds of innocent machines using trojans and then telling them to bombard a particular website with bogus data packets.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Nick Bryant
"Half of all e-mails are spam"



SEE ALSO:
Net giants take on spam
28 Apr 03  |  Technology
Where spam comes from
24 Apr 03  |  Technology
Hotmail limits to fight spam
27 Mar 03  |  Technology
Computer pioneer aids spam fight
08 Jan 03  |  Technology
Spam to be canned?
24 Mar 03  |  UK
Fighting zombie machines
22 Aug 01  |  Science/Nature
FBI probes attack on net
23 Oct 02  |  Technology
Geologists investigate Trojan battlefield
07 Feb 03  |  Science/Nature


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