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Now, H1N1 becomes online epidemic

"Madonna caught swine flu" runs the subject line of e-mails received by many of the internet users who have been targetted by spammers and crooks trying to cash in on the global flu threat.

delhi Updated: May 10, 2009 10:48 IST

"Madonna caught swine flu" runs the subject line of e-mails received by many of the internet users who have been targetted by spammers and crooks trying to cash in on the global flu threat.

Several users have said their inbox has been assaulted with torrents of e-mails promising swine flu news taking reference of celebrities but in reality the spams delivered only malware, dubious potency drugs or other junk adverts.

"Since the swine flu has hit the headlines, my inbox has been flooded with mails claiming information on swine flu and a potential cure for the same," says Amit, a techie.

"And when you click on the link you are directed to websites selling irrelevant medications," he adds.

Leading internet security experts of McAfee and Symantec also revealed a surge in spam campaigns riding on the flu threat, which instead of delivering useful information distribute viruses and offer bogus pills that purportedly eradicate the flu.

"In the past, Symantec has pointed out that spammers have the tendency to sensationalise current events to launch their attacks. Events like Mumbai terror attacks, China earthquake all have been leveraged by spammers," says Shantanu Ghosh, VP of India Product Operations, Symantec.

"This scare has spawned a spamming frenzy," says the Symantec expert, adding that spam messages has provocative titles like "Salma Hayek caught swine flu!" and "Swine flu in Hollywood".

According to McAfee Avert labs, about five per cent of global spam volume now mentions swine flu to trick people into opening the e-mail message, which could amount to billions of mails each day.

It can be estimated that between 80 billion and 100 billion spam messages are sent each day over the last one month but there was no spam at all that mentioned swine flu before, the anti-virus firm adds.

Trend Micro director Juan Pablo Castro, in a statement recently, also warned about the potential damage spammers can make, saying, "Swine virus has become a computer virus that takes advantage of fear and confusion to spread mischievous codes, junk e-mails and infect computer equipment."

The e-mails also offer lower-price drugs like Tamiflu with lower-quality, less regulated generic, which could pose health risks.

"Once an innocent user clicks on such mails, they automatically end up downloading malware on the computers. This could have serious repercussions in terms of loss of sensitive and personnel financial information," Shantanu warns.