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California bush fires that have destroyed 50 homes and ten commercial buildings - and claimed the lives of two firefighters - have become the latest lure for malware scams.

Surfers searching for information about fires in the Auburn area using terms such as "auburn fire map" are presented with a list that includes pointers to sites harbouring malware, Reg reader Michael Fingleton warns.

Sophos confirmed that it found fake anti-virus software (detected as FakeAV-ZJ Trojan) on the sites. The infected websites are also spreading Mac malware, specifically Jahlav-C.

"Users would be wise to rely on well-known news outlets for updates on the latest breaking stories, as tasteless hackers are never slow to leap on an opportunity like this," Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant, Sophos.

The incident is the latest example of profit-motivated VXers taking advantage of tragedies and natural disasters to distribute crud. Malware attacks also accompanied the recent death of Michael Jackson, Hurricane Katrina and the outbreak of swine flu, to cite just a few examples among many.

More recently, trendy topics on Twitter have acted as the input for black-hat search engine manipulation. Cybercriminals use a battery of automatically registered Twitter accounts to submit updates containing hashtags related to hot conversation topics. These messages also contain pre-defined Tinyurl links, leading to sites offering malware in the guise of codecs supposedly needed to view online video clips.

In related news, the California fires are threatening broadcasting and mobile phone towers on top of Mount Wilson, the LA Times reports. The historic Mount Wilson Observatory is also in danger. ®

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