Porn Virus Hits Hard

Gretchen Gallen
UNITED KINGDOM -- The offer of free porn is apt to peak the interest of many email recipients, particularly when a woman named Wendy promises to share details of a secret sexual encounter. But once the attachment is opened, the same old viral song and dance begins and the latest variant of the Mimail-L virus disseminates through the user's email address book.

But this season's Mimail version comes with a new hook, and one aimed specifically at anti-spam organizations. The Mimail-L virus also sends an email to infected users claiming that their credit card has been charged for a CD full of images of child pornography. And that's where the slam against anti-spam groups begins.

The email comes with a bogus web billing address offering users the option of complaining if their card has been wrongly used, although the email address links to any number of eight websites belonging to notable anti-spam organizations, including the Spamhaus Project.

The end result is that these organizations are getting blasted with tons of angry emails and junk data. The virus also turns infected email browsers into junk mail relay machines that continue to blast denial of service messages to anti-spam websites like SpamCop.net and SPEWS.org. Even Disney's Go.com website has gotten snared up in the virus scam.

"This worm wages war on the anti-spam community, disrupting their attempts to keep the net spam-free," Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos, said in a statement. "The most likely conclusion is that the writer of this worm is in some way connected with the spamming community."

Security analysts believe that this recent attack against Spamhaus and other anti-spam organizations is a sign that these groups are winning the war against spam, and that spam gangs are merely showing their ire against some of the effective efforts to eradicate spam.

It is also confirmation that spam gangs are increasingly joining up with hackers to wreak havoc on networks and develop more sophisticated forms of network sabotage and theft.

This is not the first time the Mimail virus has waged a messy attack on email users. According to reports, previous versions have targeted specific websites with junk data attacks, and other versions have been aimed at stealing credit card information.

The Mimail-L attack is being seen as relatively mild compared to some of the other more virulent worms circulated across the Internet.

Spamhaus and other anti-spam groups are cooperating with authorities in their search for the author of the Mimail-L.

Ferris Research came out with a study this week confirming that vendors selling anti-spam products are profiting more than senders of spam. According to Ferris, anti-spam companies made an estimated $130 million in 2003, and by 2004 that number is expected to leap 200 percent to $360 million.

On the other side of the coin, Microsoft Corp. issued a statement today saying that the creators of computer viruses are winning the battle against law enforcement and getting away with crimes that cost the global economy around $13 billion per year.

"So far they are getting away with it," said a Microsoft representative. "They are winning by a considerable margin. Very few have been identified or prosecuted or punished."