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Security Response

Swine Flu Outbreak Headlines Used For Spammer’s Gain

Created: 28 Apr 2009 10:21:17 GMT • Updated: 23 Jan 2014 18:35:34 GMT
Mayur Kulkarni's picture
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The swine flu outbreak in Mexico and the United States is making news headlines all over the world, with updates coming out in real time from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The scare has spawned a spamming frenzy, like sharks smelling blood in the water. Symantec has been monitoring the spam and is continuing to analyze the underlying intentions of the associated messages. In the past, such current event spam campaigns included sending malicious messages, in which the email user is lured into clicking malicious links that pretend to be a harmless link or a related video. However, this time around it is an email address that the spammers are more interested in collecting—perhaps as part of a harvest for their future campaigns.

One of the samples (shown below) simply informs recipients of the disaster, using linked news headlines from reputable news agencies. Users are asked whether they are in the United States or Mexico and whether or not they know anybody who is affected by the outbreak. Users can share their experiences by filling in a form (URL provided) or reply back with their story along with an email address and phone number.

There is another spam campaign underway that is also using headlines related to the swine flu outbreak, but the messages don't contain any URLs or attachments. The intention of this type of campaign is to spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) among email users. Some of the headlines used in this particular type of email spam have been hoisted from various news agencies, and examples are listed below:
 

Mexico on edge as reports of swine flu cases climb    
UK monitoring swine flu outbreak
UK probes '17 swine flu reports'
Global panic as swine flu spreads to Europe
US declares emergency as Mexico flu death toll rises
Probable Mexico swine flu death toll - 103: minister
Swine flu case confirmed in Spain
Are you worried about flu outbreak\?
World moves to contain flu spread
U.S. tries to get a handle on flu outbreak
World 'well prepared' for virus
World flu epidemic fear rises, Mexicans take refuge
Twenty swine flu cases confirmed in U.S.
Mexico flu sparks worldwide fear
Suspected Mexico flu toll hits 81
Mexico flu 'a potential pandemic'
81 feared dead from swine flu in Mexico
Swine flu epidemic fear grows, world on alert
U.S. acts swiftly to contain swine flu outbreak
Family alert to swine flu illness

Users are advised to avoid opening unsubscribed news alerts, especially if they contain suspicious links or potentially malicious attachments. Please be extremely cautious with any messages that arrive unexpectedly and from an unknown or untrusted source.

Message Edited by Trevor Mack on 04-29-2009 07:32 AM