Internet users can be blind-sided by e-mail "cluster bombs" that inundate their inboxes with hundreds or thousands of messages in a short period of time, thereby paralyzing the users online activities, according to a new report by researchers at Indiana University Bloomington and RSA Laboratories in Bedford, Mass.
IUB computer scientist Filippo Menczer and RSA Laboratories Principal Research Scientist Markus Jakobsson describe in the December 2003 issue of ;login: a weakness in Web sites that makes the e-mail cluster bombs possible. A miscreant could, the authors say, pose as the victim and fill out Web site forms, such as those used to subscribe to a mailing list, using the victims own e-mail address.
One or two automated messages would hardly overload an e-mail inbox. But Menczer, associate professor of informatics and computer science, said special software called agents, web-crawlers and scripts can be used by the bomber to fill in thousands of forms almost simultaneously, resulting in a "cluster bomb" of unwanted automatic reply e-mail messages to the victim. The attack can also target a victims cell phone with a sudden, large volume of SMS (short message service) messages.
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