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Celebrity spam gang whips up a storm

Stealth botnet responsible for huge spam surge

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A copycat spam gang has launched an effort to compromise PCs that rivals the botnet created by the infamous Storm Worm Gang.

The botnet established by the Celebrity Spam Gang, so-named for a habit of using celebrity names in malware, is currently responsible for 20 per cent of junk mails in circulation, according to net security firm Marshal.

Marshal reckons the gang has been building up its botnet since August 2006 when it began chucking out messages with infected attachments that commonly promise nude images of celebrities such as Angelina Jolie and Britney Spears. Other tactics include disguising malware-tainted attachments as free games or Windows Security Updates.

All this is fairly standard stuff, yet the gang has enjoyed considerable success.

"It is a concern to us that so many computer users are still being taken in by what we would consider to be an obvious subterfuge as 'check out this nude Britney Spears game'. The Storm Gang has been more inventive with their campaigns and exploited everything from news headlines to greeting cards. There is clearly a need for renewed awareness and education," said Bradley Anstis, VP of products at Marshal.

The Celebrity Spam Gang is following the Storm Gang's template of spamming out malware in order to expand its botnet, in turn building the capacity to generate greater numbers of junk mail messages.

The scale of the gang's activities only became apparent after security researchers at Marshal deliberately infected a machine, turning it into a zombie client of the Celebrity Spam Gang.

"We deliberately infected a test computer with the Celebrity Gang botnet and then closely monitored its behaviour and the make-up of spam it was instructed to send by the spammers," Anstis explained. "We were able to match this spam against 23 per cent of all spam we saw in circulation for the previous month."

Although the Celebrity Spam Gang had been on Marshal's radar for some time, the volume of junk mail it was responsible for came as a surprise to security researchers.

Marshal recommends PC users do not open executable files attached to email messages from addresses they do not recognise or trust and to "refrain from opening any message that purports to feature nude celebrities".

Obvious advice, perhaps, but something a small minority of surfers are ignoring, to the detriment of the internet as a whole. ®

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