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SCIENCE

The Web cashes in on deadly virus

Video by Gallagher FENWICK , Battiste FENWICK

Text by Sébastian SEIBT

Latest update : 2009-05-07

The H1N1 flu virus is rapidly spreading across the World Wide Web. Scammers, spammers, online entrepreneurs – everyone wants to cash in on the flu scare.

Click on tiny green pigs which randomly appear on a world map to beat the H1N1 virus. Swinefighter, a free online game, is rapidly spreading across the World Wide Web, just like the deadly virus. The site says "8,793,854 infected pigs have been destroyed".

A special feed on Twitter has been created to attract more visitors: “OMG, they created a game about it,” reads one of the tweets.

The H1N1 virus has attracted a lot of attention on the Web, and not just from people anxious for information about the flu. According to MacAfee, which makes software to fight (metaphorical Internet) viruses, the number of domains (Internet addresses) including the word "swine" has multiplied by 30. “And you can bet it’s not all going to be informative,” notes MacAfee's site.

Internet-networking giant Cisco estimates that H1N1 virus-related spam accounted for up to four percent of the total advertising mails sent out globally. Not a bad figure for a disease that’s been in the news for just over a week.

Scammers and opportunists

The aim is to attract naive Internet users towards sites where they may be compelled to spend money. Computerworld underlines that some of the spam mails direct users towards online pharmacies that propose miracle remedies while other mails lead to sites that host Internet viruses.

But not all online intiatives are scams. Some, like Swinefighter, are more about online entrepreneurs taking advantage of the crisis for profit. Flushirts is selling T-shirts online for $16 apiece. ZocDoc, a Web site used to find doctors in New York in an emergency, has set up a special H1N1 flu service.

The Web security site Sophos says people shouldn't be surprised that spammers are taking advantage of curiosity and concern about the flu.

Date created : 2009-05-04

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