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Resident Evil viral marketing ploy backfires

Mobile virus hoax taxes support desks

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A marketing campaign to promote the latest version of the Resident Evil video game has provoked a panic about the spread of a non-existent mobile phone virus.

Users have received unsolicited SMS text messages on their mobile phones telling them they are infected by the so-called T-Virus, prompting calls to AV company Sophos about the supposed outbreak. The messages are sent from a website designed to promote the game Resident Evil: Outbreak, in which players defend themselves against zombies by blowing their heads off with a shotgun.

The website allows unsolicited text messages to be sent to mobile phones claiming that the phone is infected, without the permission of the phone's owner. A typical message reads: "Outbreak: I'm infecting you with t-virus, my code is ******. Forward this to 60022 to get your own code and chance to win prizes. More at t-virus.co.uk."

"The messages themselves are not infectious, but some people have panicked that they might have received a real mobile phone virus," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos. "This marketing campaign seems particularly ill-conceived, as there is so much genuine interest in the mobile virus threat at present."

CE Europe, the company behind the marketing campaign, has issued a press release which makes it clear that the whole thing is a promotional stunt. IT departments and anti-virus support staff have enough work in dealing with real viruses without dealing with hoaxes. Doubtless, they will be less than whelmed by the self-proclaimed ingenuity of CE Europe's viral marketing tactics.

It's not the first time a virus hoax has been started to promote a product. In 1996, Penguin Books started the Irina hoax in an attempt to promote a new book. The hoax continued to spread and cause confusion for some years. VMyths provides extensive background on the whole virus hoax phenomenon. ®

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