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18 Aug 2004

Resident Evil marketing campaign backfires as users panic about mobile phone virus, Sophos comments

Resident Evil Outbreak
The Resident Evil: Outbreak video game is being promoted by an ill-conceived viral marketing campaign.

A marketing campaign to promote the latest version of the Resident Evil video game has backfired, as mobile phone users believe they have been infected by a virus.

Sophos technical support has received enquiries from users who have received unsolicited SMS text messages on their mobile phones telling them they are infected by the so-called T-Virus.

Sophos's investigation has discovered that the messages are being sent from a website designed to promote the game Resident Evil: Outbreak, in which players defend themselves against zombies by blowing their heads off with a shotgun.

The website allows unsolicited text messages to be sent to mobile phones claiming that the phone is infected, without the permission of the phone's owner. A typical message reads as follows:

Outbreak: I'm infecting you with t-virus, my code is ******. Forward this to 60022 to get your own code and chance to win prizes. More at t-virus.co.uk

"The messages themselves are not infectious, but some people have panicked that they might have received a real mobile phone virus," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos. "This marketing campaign seems particularly ill-conceived, particularly as there is so much genuine interest in the mobile virus threat at present."

Sophos is also disturbed that CE Europe, the company behind the marketing campaign, have issued a press release including quotes suggesting that the "outbreak" is "totally out of control"

'We had to come clean about the T-VIRUS eventually,' commented Ben Le Rougetel, Senior PR Manager and Chief Virologist, CE Europe. 'The T-VIRUS was originally designed to promote the release of Resident Evil: Outbreak for PS2, but it's spread much quicker than we originally anticipated. It's now totally out of control and we're not totally sure how to stop it.'

"The press release implies that the messages have stopped being a marketing device, and have become a real virus. The truth is that viral marketing campaigns like this generate work for IT departments and anti-virus support desks as we have to reassure users that it is not a genuine infection," continued Cluley.

Sophos notes that this is not the first time a virus hoax has been started to promote a product. In 1996, Penguin Books started the Irina hoax in an attempt to promote a new book. That hoax continued to spread for some years.

Sophos continues to receive many support queries from users troubled by virus hoaxes and email chain letters, and recommends users always check an anti-virus vendor's website when they receive a possible hoax. The Sophos website's hoax information section is one of the most highly respected sources for reliable information on new hoaxes.

To keep informed about the most prevalent hoaxes and viruses, you can add a free Sophos information feed to your own website or intranet.

About Sophos

More than 100 million users in 150 countries rely on Sophos as the best protection against complex threats and data loss. Sophos is committed to providing complete security solutions that are simple to deploy, manage, and use and that deliver the industry's lowest total cost of ownership. Sophos offers award-winning encryption, endpoint security, web, email, mobile and network security solutions backed by SophosLabs - a global network of threat intelligence centers.

Sophos is headquartered in Boston, US and Oxford, UK. More information is available at www.sophos.com.