Page last updated at 06:06 GMT, Tuesday, 14 February 2006

Warning over Valentine's e-cards

Valentine's cards
It is usually safe to open this kind of card

Valentine's Day could be a bonanza for malicious hackers, internet security experts are warning.

Fake Valentine's e-cards and dodgy dating websites are among the tactics being used by fraudsters to relieve internet users of their money.

The government's Get Safe Online campaign is urging users to take care.

As well as e-cards harbouring viruses and spyware, the missives are being used for phishing, using fake links to get bank and credit card details.

Rogue e-cards could direct unsuspecting users via embedded URLs to dating websites that are not all they seem.

There, efforts may be made to get hold of credit card details, bank account information and passwords.

Human condition

Online dating is booming, but security firm Internet Security Systems say some of the rise in dating sites could be explained by sites created by malicious hackers.

Senior technology specialist James Rendell said spam e-mails could be cleverly constructed to contain innocuous looking links that in fact took users to one of these rogue sites.

E-mail inbox full of Love Bug virus, AP
But it is probably better to avoid any of these

"What you see isn't necessarily what you get. Like the I Love You bug, people are quite likely to open an e-mail with that title. It's human nature."

Mr Rendell advises users to avoid opening unsolicited attachments, not click on links in e-mails but instead type out the address in their browser, and consider not opening any potentially suspicious e-mails at all.

Web security firm Finjan warned that hackers were exploiting the "conditioned response" of users to open out of curiosity unsolicited romantic e-mails.

Yuval Ben-Itzhak, of Finjan, said: "Today's hackers are well aware of traditional security systems such as firewalls, anti-virus and intrusion prevention/detection products, and are crafting their malicious code to outsmart such systems.

"Just the receipt of an e-card can be a huge threat. Some people will ignore these but for others, curiosity draws them to making a simple click on an innocent looking advert, and unknowingly our Romeo or Juliet exposes the organisation to web-borne security threats."

Previous viruses, like 2000's Love Bug, have played on this tendency.

Sophisticated spying

Experts warn users to keep their security software up to date and not to open any unsolicited Valentine's-related messages.

For their part, lovers are using increasingly sophisticated methods to check up on partners they suspect of infidelity.

Mobile phone satellite navigation firm CoPilot said a survey had turned up respondents checking mobile phones and trawling dating sites for adverts from their loved ones.

But by far the most ingenious was a woman who found her boyfriend was secretly visiting his ex-girlfriend's house after following him on the internet using the satellite navigation system she bought him.

And paper Valentine's cards are increasingly under assault from their electronic counterparts.

Research from BT suggests one in six in the UK, and a third of over-30s, have considered sending a text instead of a card.

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