Was the ‘Shrek virus’ that supposedly allowed 30,000 ‘ugly people to join Danish dating website BeautifulPeople a shallow publicity hoax?

Security company Sophos thinks so and has called time on a piece of malware it now believes never existed.

“It just all seems a little too convenient that this ‘malware’ has generated a huge amount of publicity for the site, without causing any trouble for current or future members,” said Graham Cluley of Sophos.

“The firm has conducted impressive publicity stunts in the past, and this is just the latest - dreamt up against a backdrop of newspaper headlines about big companies facing genuine security breaches,” said Cluley, unable to hide his disdain that a serious issue might have been exploited to promote a commercial dating website. 

The site claimed that someone – probably an ex-employee - had written a targeted ‘virus’ sophisticated enough to change the entry criteria in such a way that large number of of people were able to gain membership. No evidence of the so-called virus or any police investigation was produced.

We should be clear here. Sophos is accusing the dating site of lying through its chemically-whitened teeth in search of coverage. BeautifulPeople even claimed it had spent $100,000 (£60,000) cleansing its database of people not deemed good looking enough to be members. At face value, fair or not, this attack sounds pretty incredible.

A bothersome question remains the ease with which an obscure company few had heard of was able to jump on the malware bandwagon with few questions asked. Many news sites took the story fairly seriously. As with dating, there is always a last time.