Be careful next time you get accosted by a flirty stranger in an Internet chatroom: He or she could just be a Russian chat-up bot out to steal your identity.
Internet security experts say that Russian programmers have created a piece of software known as CyberLover that can infiltrate dating sites and chatrooms and patiently seduce its victims.
The "bot" solicits and collects information such as home addresses, telephone numbers and personal photographs, which are then used to compile a profile that can be sold on to identity thieves.
The creators of the software, who use the Web address Botmaster.ru, market it as a device allowing computer-savvy men to link up with women (or women with men) without having to go through endless time-consuming introductions.
Botmaster says that the its software can make the acquaintance of between 10 and 20 people in half an hour.
"It's a fact," it declares, "that not a single girl has yet guessed that she is talking with a computer program!"
But Sergei Shevchenko, senior malware analyst at the security firm PC Tools, said in a statement that its real application is much more dangerous: ID fraud.
"Internet users today are generally aware of the dangers of opening suspicious attachments and visiting unusual URLs, but CyberLover employs a new technique that is unheard of — and that's what makes it particularly dangerous," said Sergei Shevchenko, senior malware analyst at PC Tools.
"As a tool that can be used by hackers to conduct identity fraud, CyberLover demonstrates an unprecedented level of social engineering. It employs highly intelligent and customized dialogue to target users of social-networking systems," Shevchenko added.
For the moment, the attacks have been limited to Russia but could potentially spread to other parts of the world.
"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," Shevchenko said.