October’s email will focus on a trend that is currently causing concern online – ‘Spimming’.
Most of us are aware of SPAM – the junk messages that we get sent to our email inbox or to our mobile phones. Some people are now using popular chat facilities and Instant Messenger applications to send something called ‘SPIM’ to others.
The term ‘Spimming’ is used to describe unsolicited messages which are being sent through Instant Messenger (such as Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo Chat etc), usually from automated accounts. The messages can be harmless links to adverts, or in more serious cases can link to adult sites or websites with abusive content. The confusing thing about these messages is that they often seem to be from a real person (when they are not) and will take the form of a conversation.
How does SPIM work?
A ‘bot’ (short for an internet robot) is a piece of software that runs automated, structurally repetitive tasks over the internet. These bots are being deployed into IM applications and will take the appearance of another chat user. An automated message will then ask that they are added to the user’s online buddy list. When accepted onto the buddy list, the automated messages begin. No matter what response the user gives, the messages from the ‘bot’ stays the same.
In our experience these automated messages can often be inappropriate and sexualised from the outset. They have included references to live web-cam shows and sexual activity. In some cases, if the automated conversation is allowed to continue, a link is given to the user and if clicked, will take them automatically, to a site with sexual content. A variety of different names and email addresses are given by the ‘bot’ to make people think they are actually speaking to another human, when in fact they are communicating with an internet robot. Numerous reports have been received by the CEOP Centre and we have in turn made the Internet Watch Foundation (www.iwf.org.uk) aware.
What are the risks?
Children and young people are unknowingly adding internet ‘bots’ to their online contact list, believing them to be ‘real people’. By adding people they do not know to their contact list anyway, they are putting themselves at risk to strangers and potentially adults with a sexual interest in children, who use online environments to meet people.
Once the ‘bot’ has been added to the contact list and the conversation ensues, there is the option to click on a link which will take users to a site that houses inappropriate sexual content. The link or url may not be advertised as leading to explicitly sexual material. Children and young people should be aware that clicking on a link not known to them may result in them accessing inappropriate images or may result in a virus or images being downloaded to their machine, or may allow a hacker access to their computer.
What can be done?
Children and young people should be encouraged NOT to add, or accept people to their online contact list if they do not know who they are. If a stranger tries to be added as a friend to a users online contact list, they should be blocked or deleted straight away. If a ‘bot’ is added to a contact list and a conversation ensues, children and young people need to know that they should not click on the link provided to them. They should delete the contact and report what has happened using the ‘Report Abuse’ button on the www.ceop.gov.uk website.
Visit www.thinkuknow.co.uk for advice and guidance on how to stay safe online. There is also a specific area on the site for parents.
Find out more about spimming…
Find out more about CEOP…
You can now register to receive our bi-monthly e-bulletin which provides information to subscribers on all areas of the work of CEOP. Visit www.ceop.gov.uk to find out more.
Help us in the fight to locate missing child sex offenders- register to receive updates when more details are released or new offenders are posted on the site. Visit www.ceop.gov.uk/wanted
What is CEOP again?
CEOP is the police agency specifically set up to tackle the sexual abuse of children in the UK. Find out more about our work at www.ceop.gov.uk and register for updates on all areas of our activity.
And finally- did you find this email useful?
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