Florist kicks up a stink about false phish alarm

Bloomin' MessageLabs

A florist is complaining that MessageLabs wrongly identified emails it was sending as infected with a computer virus.

The November edition of the monthly newsletter email sent out by Arena Flowers was wrongly identified as a phishing email. That in itself would be bad enough, but MessageLabs compounded the problem by attaching a explanation to customers that implied the florists were distributing a computer virus, specifically identified as a PayPal phishing attempt.

The MessageLabs Email Security System discovered a possible virus or unauthorised code (such as a Trojan) in an email sent to you.

Possible MalWare 'Exploit/Phishing-paypal-1054' found in '7782603_2X_PM3_EMQ_MH__message.htm'. Heuristics score: 202

Will Wynne, managing director of Arena Flowers, related the tale of woe in a blog posting here.

"It was a complete, 100 per cent misdiagnosis by MessageLabs, as they subsequently confirmed. We learnt that the reason that our email got hammered is that we put the word 'PayPal' into the subject line yet we are not PayPal. Blimey. Sophisticated stuff.

"We had PayPal in our subject line to let our customers know that they could win £10k cash if they paid for any order with PayPal during PayPal's very generous 10th birthday promotion," Wynne added.

A sales rep from MessageLabs was one of those who subscribed to the newsletter. He sent an email to Arena asking to be taken off the distribution list that suggested Arena might benefit from its services.

Wynne claimed sales dropped 50 per cent in the week after the incident. The email newsletter goes out to 40,000 Arena Flowers customers every month.

Nobody from MessageLabs was available to discuss the story at the time of going to press. But in a statement from the email filtering firm downplayed the impact of the snafu.

"Our antivirus team identified the email as a possible phishing email because it included a hyperlink with PayPal in its name that did not link back to the PayPal site. Once MessageLabs was alerted to the error, we resolved the issue." ®

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