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VXers have created an email-aware worm that offers outrageous, and bogus, news stories about the supposed the outbreak of nuclear war and the fictional deaths of either George W Bush and Vladimir Putin as bait.

The Dref-N worm, whose payload comes in emails with subject lines such as 'White house news!', 'Incredible news' and 'ATTN TO EVERYBODY!', tries to dupe recipients by claiming that the attachment contains details of a major global news story. Opening the attached file disables the Windows firewall, infecting Windows PCs with code that allows hackers to steal sensitive information. Infected Pcs churn out copies of the worm, which are sent to contacts harvested from compromised PCs.

The worm is spreading in the wild, albeit modestly. Anti-virus firms classify it as a low risk pathogen but still warn users to exercise caution. "While many of these news hooks may sound totally implausible, it's amazing how many users still allow temptation to get the better of them, and click on the infected file," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos.

The political leaders of the US and Russia join a long line of public figures whose names has been harnessed to bait malware attacks. Malware posing as the death pics of both Osama bin Laden (the Small-AXR Trojan) and Saddam Hussein (the Bobax-H worm) have hit the net over recent months. Offers of racy pictures of Jennifer Lopez and Anna Kournikova, among others, have also been used to tempt the unwary. ®

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