Spammers are infecting the internet with emails that prey on swine flu fears. Messages started within hours of the disease hitting the headlines and now account for an estimated 2% of all global emails sent.
The messages typically use tabloid-like subject lines to entice readers. These have included “Swine flu hits Hollywood!”, “First US swine flu victims!”, and “Madonna catches swine flu!”. Many are caught by spam filters but spammer strategies always become more sophisticated and many thousands of variants will be attempted.
Domain registrations featuring the word “swine” have also increased 3,000%. Cyber-criminals can automatically generate flu-related content in an attempt to exploit search engine queries.
The majority of spam and web links appear to lead to fake web pharmacies selling swine flu “cures” (there is no known medical cure at this time) or downloadable “information” documents. Those receiving counterfeit or worthless goods are likely to be the fortunate ones; many people will receive nothing, have their credit card details harvested, or be encouraged to download malicious software.
Swine flu may or may not develop into a world-wide pandemic, but news about the disease, its spread, and the victims will remain topical for weeks. Spammers have always exploited headlines and fears, but it is rare to find a subject with global interest that affects everyone on the planet.
As usual, avoid opening obvious spam messages or clicking links even if they appear to come from friends or colleagues.