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A new viral marketing stunt for a music clip site poses almost as great a risk as a real virus, according to security experts.

An email which invites users to visit a website to view comedy video clips, such as one of Bill Gates being hit with a custard pie by Belgian anarchists, is doing the rounds. AV vendor Sophos has received a number of reports from customers concerned about the security risk posed by the email.

If users follow the link in the email, they are invited to install an application called "Internet Optimizer" (IO) onto their computer from a Web site run by Avenue Media NV, based in the Caribbean island of Curacao.

An end-user license agreement (EULA) for IO is displayed, stating that by viewing the movie the user is giving permission to send an invitation to view video clips to all addresses found in the user's Outlook address book and via instant messaging systems. The agreement also grants Avenue Media rights to update software on machines - or install other packages - without further permission.

Sophos is concerned that many computer users will not read the EULA with enough attention and simply grant permission for the application to be installed, without realising that emails and instant messages will be sent to all their contacts. Although this not a virus or a worm, these viral marketing campaigns have the potential to clog up a large amount of a company's email bandwidth like a mass-mailing worm.

Sophos Anti-Virus customers have requested that the application be detected, even though it is not technically a virus. Sophos detects the application as App/ViewMov-A.

"The makers of this email nuisance appear to have been inspired by the Friends Greeting incident of October last year which affected thousands of internet users," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos Anti-Virus. "Just like then the people behind this are taking advantage of the public's reluctance to read legalese and small print."

Avenue Media is not doing anything illegal - and a movie clip is offered for those gullible enough to hand over control of their computer to the West Indian outfit.

"The agreement to allow Avenue Media access to your computer to update and install code as they see fit is particularly disturbing," continued Cluley. "The decision about whether to grant such permission should only be made by an IT department fully aware of the consequences, not a user frantically clicking 'next' on a license agreement in their hurry to see a movie of Bill Gates being splattered with custard." ®

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