Newswise — Clicking on Web links in holiday-related e-mail messages is a dangerous practice that could put your identity or your computer in the hands of criminals.

Last year security researchers saw the creation of the world's largest "botnet", or collection of personal computers being controlled by hackers," said Gary Warner, director of Research in Computer Forensics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). "This botnet, called "the Storm Botnet," has at various times included more than 3 million infected computers," Warner said. "One of the primary ways machines became infected was by users clicking on e-mails that were often associated with holidays, including Valentine's Day, Labor Day, Fourth of July and others. Over the Christmas holiday, the creators of the "Storm Worm" sent e-mails with dozens of Christmas and New Year's-related greeting messages. A computer that clicks on the link in the e-mail message will be attacked by malware, which tries to join the computer to the criminal's Botnet. Once joined, the computer begins sending spam messages for the criminals, and may be used in other types of cybercrimes. "The same advice that we normally give applies here," Warner said. "Clicking on Web links in e-mail messages is a dangerous practice, which could give your identity, or in this case, your computer, to the criminals." For more details, including lists of the "Christmas" and "New Years"e-mail subject lines, see:

FYI: The UAB Computer Forensics program is a partnership between the UAB Computer & Information Science Department and the UAB Department of Justice Science. Warner and his colleagues research spam, phishing, malware, identity theft, and related CyberCrime issues. For more details, please see: