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Hong Kong named world's spam capital

HONG KONG -- Hong Kong is under siege from legions of "zombies" attacking people with spam and leaving in their wake a trail of destruction costing millions of dollars a year, analysts have warned.

It sounds like the plot of a surrealist B-movie but it is the worrying scenario computer users are facing in a city which has been awarded the unenviable title of spam capital of the world.

The problem has taken a sinister new twist with the rise of so-called zombies -- computers infected by a virus that are sending reams of spam, or unsolicited emails, without their users' knowledge.

There are an estimated 4,000 zombies active in Hong Kong and their criminal puppet masters use them to fire off thousands of messages offering products ranging from jewellery to pornography.

According to the 2008 Annual Security Report by Internet security firm MessageLabs 81.3 percent of emails sent to Hong Kong computer users last year were spam, more than in any other territory or country in the world.

And the problem is getting worse, with figures for August this year showing the spam rate in Hong Kong had risen to 93.4 percent.

"Nowhere is quite like Hong Kong. Location, history and inherent character combine to give it a special identity that sets it apart from anywhere else in the world," says Internet data analyst Dan Bleaken.

Bleaken believes the city's status as a financial and commercial hub makes it a lucrative target for spammers.

"According to some estimates, spam-related activities cost Hong Kong 770 million dollars (HK$5.5 billion) in 2001, for example," he said.

Internet security firms say the money is lost primarily through the disruption caused to business by malicious software and viruses -- lost productivity through system downtime, slow system response times, technicians' time, extra hardware and software.

Bleaken analysed data gathered by MessageLabs for a research paper entitled "Hong Kong and the Internet: Key Threats, Current Trends".

"Proximity to the rest of China -- a spammers' haven" is another root cause of Hong Kong's problems, Bleaken says in the report.

"Although the rest of China is the origin of only seven percent of global spam, it accounts for nearly 24 percent of the spam heading for Hong Kong."

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