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Oops! Britney worm wriggles on Net

The perky pop star is the inspiration for a potentially destructive worm that is squirming through Microsoft Outlook e-mail.

Britney Spears can add one more notch to her soaring global popularity: The perky pop star has become the inspiration for a potentially destructive e-mail worm wriggling through cyberspace, security experts said Friday.

The bug, labeled variously as "VBS/Britney-A" and "VBS-BRITNEYPIC.A," is considered low-risk because it infected a small number of computer users in Europe after it was initially detected Thursday morning, computer experts said.

But because the worm carries an attachment masquerading as a picture of the 20-year-old pop idol, security officials were still on alert Thursday.

"Because this says 'Britney Spears,' we thought this may have potential to spread," said Natasha Staley, a spokeswoman for British computer security firm Sophos Anti-Virus.

The name "Britney Spears" is consistently one of the most popular search terms on Internet search engines, and the massively successful singer has been the inspiration behind scores of fan sites.

Britney, J.Lo and Anna
Spears is the latest female celebrity to be used by virus writers who hope to ensnare scores of would-be victims. Singer/actress Jennifer Lopez was the subject of a minor e-mail virus threat last year.

The reigning queen of celebrity e-mail bugs is still Russian tennis star Anna Kournikova, computer experts say.

Last May, the so-called Anna Kournikova e-mail worm had a nasty run in the wild. In that case, the worm crippled computer servers and slowed Internet traffic around the world, after unsuspecting computer users clicked on an e-mail attachment thinking they would see a photo of the tennis star.

The author, a Dutch man, was eventually arrested and sentenced last September to 150 hours of community service. Raimund Genes, European president of computer security firm Trend Micro, said the Britney Spears virus is much less sophisticated than the Kournikova worm--possibly the reason for its relatively slow infestation.

Genes said the worm carries an attachment labeled ".CHM," which doesn't look like a photo attachment and could tip off computer users that it's a hoax.

According to Sophos, the Britney bug spreads via the popular Microsoft Outlook e-mail program as well as through Internet Relay Chat channels on the Internet. As with Kournikova, it could overload computer servers and slow Internet traffic.

Story Copyright © 2002 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.