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Consumers could fall prey to "Love" bug variants

With St. Valentine's Day approaching, more e-mail users are vulnerable to computer viruses and worms similar to the "I Love You" virus.

A maker of antivirus software warns that computer users may not have learned much from the "Love" bug, which caused so much disaster for Internet users last May.

A survey from Gloucester, England-based antivirus firm MessageLabs indicates that more than a third of business e-mail users across the United Kingdom will still open a message with the subject line "I Love You" this Valentine's Day, despite the notoriety attained by the e-mail worm that used that line.

MessageLab's research indicates Internet users remain vulnerable to computer viruses and worms designed to appeal to their sense of curiosity. It found that 54 percent would open an e-mail entitled "Great Joke," 50 percent "Look at this," 46 percent "Re. Message," 40 percent "No title" and 39 percent "Special Offer".

"We've seen the numbers of viruses detected in e-mails rise sharply over the last year," Mark Sunner, chief technology officer at MessageLabs, said in a release. "The report goes to prove that on a day such as St. Valentine's, e-mail users are vulnerable to unusual e-mail, which creates an opportunity for virus writers."

"Eleven percent of the people surveyed had received the Love bug last year; that on its own is an astonishing number," said Alistair Kelman, an Internet specialist at the London School of Economics. "But despite all the press attention over the last year, it would appear that three times that amount would open it this year.

"The results are very worrying at a time when the threat of computer viruses is rising."