Spamming fears for Vatican computers

An internet insecurity company claims to have identified at least one computer with a Vatican City internet address that is being used as a spam-sending "zombie."

According to The Age, the Vatican has emerged as an "unwitting relay source of spam traffic" in the latest "dirty dozen" report released by internet security comopany Sophos, which names and shames the countries generating the highest amounts of junk email.

Although the Vatican itself is not a member of the dirty dozen, Italy made its first appearance in the list in eighth position, indicating that spam kings might have enlisted an increased number of "zombie" computers either within or outside the country.

Sophos compiled the list for the three months to the end of June and the US once again topped the rankings throughout the quarter. It was closely followed by China while Australia continued its slide downward from 24th to 25th position.

Paul Ducklin, head of technology for Sophos Asia Pacific, said that, although the list could not reveal where spam had originated, it did identify the general location of the computers used to distribute junk email.

The vast majority of spam is relayed by "zombie" (also known as "botnet") computers, according to Sophos. The machines are usually hijacked by Trojan horses, worms and viruses under the outside control of internet hackers.

The practice provides spam messages with what appear to be legitimate internet IP addresses, making them harder to detect.

Mr Ducklin said that during the quarter, Sophos had traced inconsequential amounts of spam to unexpected locations such as the Vatican and Antarctica and, while it was quite possible computers in either location were generating spam without the knowledge of their owners, it was difficult to pin down exact locations.

"Even though a number [location identifier] is one of the set assigned to Vatican city, it may not actually be right inside the holy city," he said.

He added that some locations might even be "spoofed" to help cover the tracks of the original spammer or as a means of evading spam filters.

Also difficult for authorities to determine is which countries are actually responsible for masterminding spam campaigns.

Is there a zombie in the Vatican? (The Age 25/7/06)
Zombie lurks inside the Vatican, Papal spam machine (The Inquirer 25/7/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Dirty dozen (Sophos 24/7/06)

26 Jul 2006