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Wednesday, February 18, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

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E-mail viruses blamed as spam rises sharply

By Tiernan Ray
Bloomberg News

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NEW YORK — Unsolicited e-mail, or spam, more than doubled to 700 billion messages in January as home personal computers were taken over by viruses, security researchers said.

The amount of spam worldwide rose from 310 billion unwanted messages in December. As much as 15 percent came from home PCs infected with computer viruses such as the Mydoom worm, said D. K. Matai, chairman of Mi2g, a computer-security consulting firm based in London, citing reports from law-enforcement authorities and discussions with companies.

President Bush signed legislation Dec. 16 setting new fines and prison terms for those who disseminate spam. The Mydoom virus, which attacked home and company networks through e-mail starting Jan. 26, turns a computer into a "zombie" that waits to receive hackers' instructions over the Internet to send spam.

"There has been a desperate desire by spammers to create a larger and larger base of home computers" from which to send spam, Matai said. The use of zombie home PCs to send spam is a shift from operations with 100 or more computers set up in Latin America and China for that purpose, he said.

Seizure of those facilities has driven spammers to create networks of infected computers that are harder to stop, Matai said.

"Law-enforcement officials are seeing instances where 1 million (spam) messages come from a single dynamic IP address," Matai said. Such dynamic addresses are assigned to home computers, in contrast to the "fixed" Internet protocol addresses of corporate computers.

The bulk of the spam was traced to computers in Canada, Europe and Australia, Matai said.

Matai declined to say which authorities performed the investigations. Mi2g has worked with the National Infrastructure Security Coordination Centre (NISCC), established by the U.K. Home Office in 1999 to protect critical facilities from electronic attack.

The NISCC declined to comment about any investigations.

Mydoom, which may have infected as many as 1 million PCs worldwide, continues to prevent access to the Web site of SCO Group, according to company spokesman Blake Stowell.


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