"As a tool that can be used by hackers to conduct identity fraud, CyberLover demonstrates an unprecedented level of social engineering," said Sergei Shevchenko, Senior Malware Analyst at PC Tools. "It employs highly intelligent and customised dialogue to target users of social networking systems."
In 1950, British mathematician and computing pioneer Alan Turing posed a game in which a human interrogator is given the task of determining which of two respondents is human and which is a machine. This game has become known as the Turing Test.
Turing expected that by now, programming would have advanced to the level where "an average interrogator will not have more than 70 percent chance of making the right identification after five minutes of questioning."
He would probably be disappointed if he knew how we've progressed. The Loebner Prize of $US100,000 plus a gold medal was first offered in 1990 for a computer that could pass the Turing Test, but remains unclaimed.
Admittedly, it is much harder to fool someone who is actively trying to determine whether a respondent is human or not. Generally speaking, people engaging in chat room and other online conversations will assume that they are talking to a person until there is some indication they they aren't.
And that's why CyberLover is potentially dangerous. The purpose of using a dating site is presumably to form new relationships, and to that end you might be tempted to give away a little more information than you otherwise would - especially if you were talking to a piece of software designed to wheedle personal details from you.
CyberLover could prove to be the vanguard of a new form of malware. As usual, soft targets have been chosen initially, but it isn't difficult to imaging other scenarios where people might be persuaded to reveal valuable information in the belief they are talking to another human.
PC Tools officials say CyberLover is currently targeting users of Russian web sites, but they urge residents of other countries - especially users of social networking and dating sites - to be on their guard against this and similar software.
They also recommend the usual precautions - don't give out personal information, use an alias, watch family members' online behaviour and make sure they are aware of the dangers, and use up to date antispyware and antivirus software with real-time and behavioural protection.
"CyberLover has been designed as a bot that lures victims automatically, without human intervention. If it's spawned in multiple instances on multiple servers, the number of potential victims could be very substantial," said Shevchenko.
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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences, a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies, and is a senior member of the Australian Computer Society.