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There has been a sharp increase in spam messages purporting to offer the details of women looking for casual sex in recent weeks. But surfers hoping to hook up to swingers are actually directed to pornographic websites, which often harbour spyware, email security firm Clearswift warned Tuesday.

The ruse is one of the latest additions to the spammers’ armoury, and has led to a rise in sex-themed spam from 10 in January to 18 per cent in February 2005. "Aside from the fact that these mails are bogus, clicking on any link within a spam mail can lead to a whole host of unwanted problems. They frequently contain malicious programs including spyware or rogue internet diallers which can run up huge, unexpected bills," said Alyn Hockey, Clearswift’s Director of Research.

Sex-themed emails have risen in prominence at the expense of a range of bizarre products seen post-Christmas - including a dog-translator and a device which turned a coffee table into a kennel - which has completely dried up. The direct products category has declined slightly from an estimated 17.85 per cent of junk mail messages in January to 14.47 per cent in February 2005, with software product spams occupying the lion's share of the segment. One new arrival, however, is phoney Sony PSP giveaways.

After something of a break over recent months sex-theme spam is very much back in fashion. Previous tricks to induce punters to visit porno websites have included offering people a well-paid career as a porn star or a job maintaining an xxx website. Clearswift's stats are extracted from the millions of spam emails harvested by the firm's honeypot network of seed accounts.

Spammers are becoming ever more inventive in their attempts to avoid email filters. The vast majority of spam - up to 80 per cent - deploys obfuscation tricks to try and disguise the words, and slip them past spam filters, according to UK-based security firm Sophos. These tricks can be as simple as deliberately misspelling a word, or using a zero instead of the letter "o", to much more sophisticated HTML-based techniques. The words most commonly obfuscated in spam emails include cialis, orgasms and Viagra, according to Sophos. Porn appears in the 28th position in Sophos's list of commonly disguised words. ®

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