Experts at Sophos are reminding computer users to be wary of unsolicited emails posing as breaking news reports, following the widespread distribution in Australia of a malicious message which claims that Prime Minister John Howard is fighting for his life after a heart attack.
The emails pretend to be a link to a news story from The Australian, a daily newspaper, and start as follows:
“SYDNEY, February 18, 2007 08:56pm (AEDT) – The Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard have survived a heart attack. Mr Howard, 67 years old, was at Kirribilli House in Sydney, his prime residence, when he was suddenly stricken. Mr Howard was taken to the Royal North Shore Hospital where the best surgeons of Australia are struggling for his life.”
Recipients of the email are encouraged to click on a link to obtain the latest information on Howard’s health. However, this link takes users to a webpage which downloads malicious code to their PC, and then displays the real ‘404 page not found’ error page used by The Australian on news.com.au.
Howard is the latest in a long line of public figures to be used as bait by malware authors and hackers. Politicians such as Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Clinton, George W Bush and PW Botha have been have been used in the past. Furthermore, the promise of glimpses of glamorous pin-ups like Halle Berry, Anna Kournikova, Julia Roberts, Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears or the stars of ‘Sex and the City’ have previously been used to help viruses spread.