Web users are being warned about a potential new online threat, with new spam and phishing scams developing the ability to mimic the ways in which friends and firms write email messages.

Although spam filters are becoming increasingly advanced, so too are the methods used by spammers and phishing criminals, according to an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Calgary in Canada.

John Aycock and research student Nathan Friess told an internet security conference in Hamburg, Germany, that the next generation of spam and phishing emails could create victims out of the most careful web users.

The researchers suggested that, by placing malicious software on computers that scans emails for information and patterns of writing, internet criminals can then create email messages that mimic those received from friends, family and legitimate companies.

The pair developed software that mined data from emails and created fake messages to trick people into clicking on URLs or attachments in order to demonstrate to delegates at the European Institute for Computer Anti-Virus Research how easily such a process could be used.

Mr Aycock said: “We want to look at potential threats and see what we can do about them right now, as opposed to getting to the point where we’re forced to react.”

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