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False reports of Bin Laden’s death snare internet users

The Guardian, UK
July 24, 2004
David Ward
www.guardian.co.uk

ReligionNewsBlog.com • Saturday July 24, 2004

Osama bin Laden is trying, knowingly or otherwise, to take over the world disguised as a computer virus.

Thousands of messages have been posted on internet chat-rooms with a subject line suggesting that journalists have discovered that the leader of al-Qaida has been found hanged.

One version of the message says in the subject line: “Osama bin Laden captured”.

Then follows the exciting news: “Hey, Just got this from CNN, Osama Bin Laden has been captured! A video and some pictures have been released. Go to the link below for pictures, I will update the page with the video as soon as I can.”

Another version suggests, with some sloppy syntax, that the reporters themselves may have carried out the execution: “Osama bin Laden was found hanged by two CNN journalists early Wednesday evening. As evidence they took several photos, some of which I have included here.

“As yet, this information has not hit the headlines due to Bush wanting confirmation of his identity but the journalists have released some early photos over the internet.”

Stories of Bin Laden’s death have turned out to be exaggerated and the messages are the latest in a long line of urban myths – but this one has a vicious cyber-twist.

Those who click a link are directed to a website to view pictures. But viewers curious to glimpse the corpse of the world’s most wanted man will find that attempts to load the pictures get nowhere.

What they may not realise is that their computer might have been infected with a piece of malicious software, a Trojan horse, named because it uses a back-door method of infection and is programmed to steal sensitive information such as bank details. It may also spread spam. Experts are warning users to ensure they have up-to-date anti-virus software. Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at the anti-virus software company Sophos, said: “Hackers and virus writers will try all kinds of tricks to entice people into downloading their malicious code.

“It seems this time that the hacker has focused on the public’s appetite for news on the war against terror.”

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