The Crowt virus spreads using e-mail messages that grab the latest headlines from the well-known news Web site.
E-mails laden with the virus, dubbed "Crowt.A" by Sophos, do not have a typical subject line and other characteristics, Sophos said. Instead, the virus sends out e-mail messages with subject lines, message content and attachment names drawn from the latest news headlines on CNN's Web site, which it gathers as it spreads. Very few Sophos customers have reported that they been affected by Crowt.A so far, the company said.
"Virus writers are always looking for new tricks to entice innocent computer users into running their malicious code. This latest ploy feeds on people's desire for the latest news," Carole Theriault, a security consultant at Sophos, said in a statement.
If a news-hungry PC user opens an infected e-mail attachment, the virus will install a program to allow remote intruders to rummage through the victim's PC and grab sensitive information. A program that records information entered into the infected computer, known as a keylogger, could also snare a victim's log-in information, Sophos said in its description of the virus, which it is referring to as a worm.
Other computer viruses have incorporated real-time elements in a similar manner to spread faster. The Santy worm, for example, used a real-time search of Google to find vulnerable computers.
The last time attackers targeted CNN was in 2000, when the Time Warner company fell prey--with other online sites--to a series of denial-of-service attacks.