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Neo-Nazis use computer spam to spread
Updated: 2005-05-19 09:02

WASHINGTON: "Spam" e-mail, used for years to sell snake-oil medicine, penny stocks and suspiciously low mortgages, is now being used to sell neo-Nazi ideology as well.

Riot police arrest a leftist protester against a neo-Nazi commemorative vigil in downtown Munich, southern Germany, Sunday, May 8, 2005. The neo-Nazis had staged a vigil to commemorate the end of World War II. Neo-Nazis call the day 'A day of honour, and not liberation'. Sign in rear reads 'Nazis out'. [AP]

A new computer worm sent right-wing German messages to millions of computers over the weekend in what anti-virus experts said was a sign that spam has become a tool for propagandists as well as scam artists.

"We have seen a trend in which worm authors are using spam not to hawk goods, but as a tool for political propaganda," said Scott Chasin, chief technical officer for the anti-virus firm MX Logic.

Chasin and other experts said the messages were sent by computers that had been infected with a new variant of the Sober worm, which turns computers into "zombies" that can be used as a base for attacks.

Experts described the amount of spam generated as "staggering."

"We have gotten inundated with reports of small networks getting hammered," said Scott Fendley, an incident handler for the Internet Storm Centre, a warning service that tracks online threats.

Bearing German-language subject lines that translate to phrases like "Multicultural = multicriminal," the messages point to racist German Web sites and news articles that could be used to support anti-immigrant views.

The timing of the attack coincided with two events that might arouse right-wing feelings in Germany: an election in the state of Northrhine-Westfalia and the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe.

It came shortly after a similar spam plague that promised tickets to soccer's World Cup. That attack probably served as a blueprint for the current campaign, experts said.

The worm's author is likely a neo-Nazi sympathizer motivated by ideology, rather than a mercenary who would send out messages for any paying customer, experts said.

"It seems like this virus writer does not consider himself a spammer at this point," said Dmitri Alperovitch, a research engineer at the anti-virus firm Cipher Trust, citing a message embedded in the worm's code.

The worm's author could tap the network of infected computers in the future to send more spam or knock targeted Web sites off line, Chasin said.

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