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Security

This week in Web threats

Spammers draw the wrath of Internet vigilantes, while virus writers target Microsoft's new anti-sypware application.

The Internet is always good for a little fear and loathing.

Internet vigilantes have launched a 48-hour bandwidth attack against spammers who allegedly defraud people online.

The 419 Flash Mob, supported by Artists Against 419, has declared war on criminals who host fake bank Web sites in the hope of luring victims to deposit money there. According to Artists Against 419's Web site, "This flash mob is in celebration of Chinese New Year...Our aim is to shut down eight fake bank web sites in less than 48 hours!"

So-called 419 scams, also known as advance fee fraud, consist of e-mails, letters and faxes asking for help to recover a large sum of money from a bank, in return for a share of the loot. Some of these scammers have now graduated to running their own fake banking Web sites.

Meanwhile, virus writers have created a malicious program that can disable Microsoft's new anti-spyware application. Antivirus experts, who are calling the Trojan "Bankash-A," say it is the first piece of malicious software to attack Windows AntiSpyware, which is still in beta.

Windows AntiSpyware, built using technology from Microsoft's acquisition of Giant Company Software, is designed to protect Windows PCs from spyware--software that is installed on computers without their owners' knowledge. Typically, spyware generates pop-up ads or keeps track of people's Web surfing.

With this month's security updates, Microsoft released a higher than usual number, more than half of which were given the software company's highest rating of "critical." Among that latter group of updates were releases for Office XP, Internet Explorer 6 and an image file component of the Windows operating system for Media Player and MSN Messenger.

A variety of consumer products--from smart phones to digital theater boxes, and from car navigation systems to home security gear--have gone digital. And with that new technology comes exposure to a digital ill already the scourge of PC users: computer viruses.

"Like humans in a sterile environment, an unconnected device has no chance of infection," said Dan Cregg, vice president of home-automation company Smarthome. "But once you are connected to the outside world, then you are in danger."