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25 Oct 2005

Sophos issues health warning after spammers peddle drugs to combat bird flu

Spammers sell drugs and pump stocks on back of bird flu fears

Experts at SophosLabs™, Sophos's global network of virus, spyware and spam analysis centers, have warned internet users that spammers are putting the lives of innocent people at risk, by peddling drugs online that are said to combat bird flu.

Sophos's spamtraps are picking up an increasing number of junk messages which claim to sell Tamiflu, the drug believed most effective at protecting humans from the H5N1 strain of the bird flu virus. The drug is in high demand because of fears that the virus could become a pandemic, and spread further around the world after deaths in Asia.

The spam emails urge recipients to protect themselves and their families from the avian flu virus by purchasing Tamiflu from an online website. The website linked to also supposedly sells Viagra, and a number of other medications.

The spams encourage recipients to purchase Tamiflu online

The spams encourage recipients to purchase Tamiflu online.

"It may make a change from receiving junk email about Viagra, but you should never ever buy drugs online, as you could be putting your health in mortal danger. Spammers are not interested in people's health, they're only interested in making fat profits," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos. "Drugs like Tamiflu should be prescribed by legitimate doctors, not quacks on the internet. Buying medicine online from a website advertised by spam email is like playing Russian Roulette."

Representatives of Roche, the Swiss pharmaceutical company which produces Tamiflu, say they have received reports of internet sales of drugs which purport to be Tamiflu but are in fact bogus. The American Medical Association and British Medical Association are campaigning to alert consumers about the risks of purchasing drugs online.

"You can never be sure that the drugs you buy online are the real thing," warned Cluley. "In your attempt to look after your health, you could actually be putting it at even greater risk."

The spam directs people to an online drugstore

The spam directs people to an online drugstore.

Earlier this year an international spam gang was hit by a lawsuit forcing them to shut down a network of websites peddling porn and bogus prescription drugs.

Spammers use bird flu fears to pump-and-dump stocks

In a separate spam campaign intercepted by Sophos, junk email messages have been discovered which aggressively talk up the stock of a company which is said to have recently announced disinfectant products effective against bird flu and SARS.

Spammers are promoting stocks associated with bird flu and SARS to make a quick profit

Spammers are promoting stocks associated with bird flu and SARS to make a quick profit.

"Spammers are spreading realistic-looking short term 'investment advice' in the hope of pumping a stock enough to offload their own shares at a profit. The increasing quantity and sophistication of pump-and-dump campaigns suggests that there is plenty of money to be made," explained Cluley. "Of course, the companies which were talked up, and their legitimate investors, are left to bear the after-effects of the stock dump."

Sophos recommends companies protect themselves with a consolidated solution which can defend against the threats of both spam and viruses.

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.