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11 Jan 2005

Unidentified tsunami boy chain letter clogs email systems, reports Sophos

The unidentified boy
The chain letter contains a picture of the boy. But media reports confirm he was identified in late December.

Sophos technical support has reminded users of the nuisance that can be caused by forwarding emails and the danger of opening unsolicited email attachments, as a message asking if anyone can identify a young victim of the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster has spread across the internet.

The email, which has been hitting inboxes across the world for over a week, contains a photograph of a young blonde-haired boy in a Thai hospital, who was found seemingly abandoned at the side of the road on the holiday island of Phuket.

Many recipients of the email have forwarded it onto all of their friends and colleagues, slowing down email systems because of the attached photograph's 1MB size.

However, media reports from the end of December reveal that the boy was identified as Hannes Bergstroem by members of his Swedish family, and is now in safety.

"Even though this little boy is now safe, well-intentioned internet users are still forwarding the chain letter, clogging up email systems in the process," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos. "This can not only waste bandwidth, but has resulted in some computer users contacting anti-virus companies concerned that the email attachment may contain a malicious payload."

A typical version of the email reads as follows:

Fw: Does anybody recognize this boy?

Looking for his family.

The boy about 2 years, from Khoa Lak is missing his parents. Nobody knows what country he comes from. If anyboy known him please contact us by phone 076-249400-4 ext. 1336, 1339 or e-mail : info@phuket-inter-hospital.co.th

"It's understandable that people would want to help after the recent tragic events, and many people who have seen the TV news will feel moved to assist in any way that they can," continued Cluley. "However, forwarding emails like this without checking if they are still appropriate can mean they continue to spread long after their usefulness has expired."

Although this email chain letter has no malicious intent, Sophos experts have sighted email financial scams and viruses that have played on interest in the tsunami disaster.

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.