Sat, Aug 23, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Sobig computer virus spreading so fast

THE GUARDIAN AND REUTERS , LONDON AND BEIJING

Criminals and fraudsters are being blamed for the worldwide wave of e-mails unleashed by a new computer virus.

The Sobig.F virus, which first appeared on Monday, has entered the record books as the fastest spreading infection of its type, generating tens of millions of e-mails in three days, clogging up inboxes and bringing many computer systems to a standstill.

At its peak, between Tuesday and Wednesday, IT security firms estimate that the virus generated as many as one in 17 of every e-mail sent worldwide.

Experts suspect the virus installs a program that attempts to download a further malicious program from the Internet -- nicknamed malware -- which acts as a secret server for routing unsolicited "spam" e-mails such as those advertising pornography or quack remedies. It may also forward credit card details and passwords.

"We think there is a big tie-in with spam sellers, who may be writing these viruses in order to find new machines that they can exploit to send more spam," said Alex Shipley, senior anti-virus technologist at MessageLabs security company.

What makes the Sobig.F virus different from previous e-mail scares -- such as the so-called LoveBug virus and Klez worm -- has been its sudden appearance and rapid spread.

"It's hard to say where it originated from; it exploded so suddenly that it may have been started using spammers' tools," said Graham Cluley, a senior technology consultant at Sophos, an anti-virus IT firm.

Indications are that the virus first appeared in the US, being posted to a number of sex and erotica news groups late on Monday night. Within an hour the first infected e-mails had appeared in inboxes.

The sudden upsurge may have been helped by a commercial spammer sending out the e-mails using mass-mailing software, catching many recipients unaware that a new virus was on the rampage.

In Asia, China's top Web security firm said yesterday that Sobig.F has infected 30 percent of all e-mail users in the country.

More than 20 million users opened and passed along the virus to domestic and regional networks, Hao Ting, spokeswoman for Beijing Rising Technology Shareholding Co Ltd, said.

"We haven't seen anything spread so fast," she said.

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