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Spam-Virus Marriage Seen As Major 2004 Internet Threat

The use of viruses to commandeer personal computers on the Internet for relaying spam is a trend that started this year and is expected to escalate in 2004, an e-mail security company said Friday.

In the last six months, MessageLabs Inc. has seen a steady rise in the use of spam and virus techniques in sending out junk e-mail hawking drugs, pornography and sexual enhancements.

The Minneapolis-based company, which filters corporate e-mail for spam and viruses, intercepts about 27 spam messages a second today, up from two per second at the same time last year. Sixty-six percent of those messages are generated from PCs that have been taken over by spammers without the knowledge of the computers' owners, Mark Sunner, chief technology officer for MessageLabs, said.

The number of PCs commandeered by spammers is expected to increase next year. "Spammers are taking advantage of the flaw in traditional anti-virus software people are running on their desktops today," Sunner said.

Traditional anti-virus software requires users to download code capable of detecting a virus after it's released on the Internet.

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