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November 10, 2010

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'Zombie' virus haunts cell users

WATCH out! "Zombies" are attacking hundreds of thousands of mobile phones in the city.

The zombies are not the scary kind, but they do qualify as annoying as at least 300,000 local handset users are unwittingly sending spam messages with a virus to all contacts in their address books after their phones caught the Zombie virus, said NetQin Mobile Inc, a leading mobile phone security company.

The number accounted for 20 percent of the 1.5 million mobile phones across the country that have been infected by the virus so far, making Shanghai one of the hardest-hit areas, the Beijing-based company found.

A local lawyer, Liu Chunquan, said if the hackers who created the virus are caught they will be jailed for creating and spreading a virus and damaging computer systems.

According to the country's criminal law, offenders can be jailed for more than five years if their crimes lead to severe consequences.

Anti-virus experts suggested that mobile phone users install anti-virus software and avoid clicking the links of spam messages, even those from friends or relatives.

Cell phones infected by the virus will be turned into another "zombie" phone, sending the phone user's SIM card information to hackers, who then remotely control the phone to send links of the virus to others via spam text messages.

Users who receive the messages and click the links will also be infected while the infected phones keep sending spam messages. The virus has cost handset users a total of about 2 million yuan (US$300,000) per day.

"My friend complained that he constantly received ad messages from me, but I never sent him any," said a local resident surnamed Zhang. "Then I realized that my phone was turned into a 'zombie.'"

According to a NetQin official surnamed Dong, they have studied hundreds of thousands of complaints and emergency calls, the feedback of the security software installed on mobile phones, and the information they gathered from a massive database that users had joined voluntarily.

However, the number of victims may far exceed the figures given by the company as its statistics don't cover all phone users.

The virus infected 1 million users during the first week of September, according to a previous report by the National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team Center.

"We noticed the virus in early August and our engineers started to fight back with anti-virus software," said Dong. "It's possible to stop it from spreading quickly."

But she said they also needed government help to track down the hackers.


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