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Experts warn of IM threat

Security experts have warned that virus writers have developed instant messaging (IM) worms capable of attacking all major IM networks.

To date, IM worms have typically being consigned to a single messaging network, such as MSN or Yahoo!, but a new breed of malware is able to spread across multiple platforms and protocols.

Analysts at Russian security company Kaspersky Lab warn that IM worms such as IRCBot, discovered in January, represent the greatest IM threat as they can spread to a large number of networks and can use variable messages and download links.

Whereas PCs have traditionally being the playground of malware writers, Mac users are increasingly at risk. In February the first worm for Mac OS X was discovered, OSX/Leap, that spreads via Apple’s own IM application, iChat.

“In most cases, an IM worm should not be viewed as a stand alone piece of malware, but rather as a slave which is used to help the IRCBot spread,” said Roel Schouwenberg, senior research engineer at Kaspersky Lab. “The appearance of IRCBot.lo, which represents the ultimate in IM worm functionality, demonstrates that IM is an infection vector which has not yet been exhausted. It therefore seems likely that we may start to see reports of other IM networks being increasingly targeted in the future.”

Concern in this area is being fuelled by the popularity of the medium. According to AOL, nearly one in four (23 per cent) IM users in the UK send as many or more IMs than they do emails, with the number rising to nearly half (44 per cent) among 18-24 year olds.


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