Spammers are playing off avian flu fears to shill pharmaceuticals and pitch stocks, a security firm said Wednesday.
U.K.-based Sophos warned users that its honeypots -- purposefully unprotected PCs set up to trap spam samples -- have been capturing a rising number of messages peddling Tamiflu, the Roche-made drug that reduces symptoms of the H5N1 strain of the bird flu virus.
One spam example that Sophos cited starts out "Bird flu case discovered in the USA" to stoke fears and prod people into buying Tamiflu from a Web site. The statement's not true; no confirmed cases of the avian flu have yet been found in the United States.
"Drugs like Tamiflu should be prescribed by legitimate doctors, not quacks on the Internet," said Graham Cluley, a senior technology consultant with Sophos, in a statement. "Buying medicine online from a Web site advertised by spam is like playing Russian Roulette."
Swiss drug maker Roche has warned consumers against purchasing Tamiflu online, saying that it has evidence some of the medication sold on the Internet is fake.
Last week, auction giant eBay yanked a listing for Tamiflu from its site, saying that the sale violated its no-prescribed-medicines policy.
Sophos also tracked a separate spam campaign that used the mounting concern of a possible flu pandemic to pump-and-dump stocks. The spammers, said Cluley, use spam to talk up the stock of a company claiming to have recently announced disinfectant products effective against bird flu.
"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," explained Cluley. "The increasing quantity and sophistication of pump-and-dump campaigns suggests that there is plenty of money to be made [by the spammers]."