A new virus that targets users of Microsoft's MSN Messenger program has been identified by researchers, threatening to steal users banking and personal data.

The new virus, called Heartworm tricks users into with a link that opens up a Web site that leads users to click on a virtual card waiting for you, security firm, FaceTime Communications announced on Friday.

The perpetrators have made a calculated move to tie this attack into numerous Web hoaxes, possibly to confuse infected users looking for help online, said Chris Boyd, director of malware research for FaceTime Security Labs.

Not only do they open up an image of a heart from a site dedicated to tackling online hoaxes, he adds, they also apparently named the attack after another online hoax - a virtual card for you - that has been in circulation since 2000.

The infection spreads by running a file in circulation on Russian Web hosting sites claiming to offer a virtual card - when the file is run, a picture of a heart containing a poem is launched, and the infected user will pass the infection link to their contacts on MSN Messenger with the phrase olha o que eu fiz pra vc....curti ai...[url removed]

The initial file has the potential to infect MSN Messenger's more than 266 million users worldwide, according to The Radicati Group. FaceTime recommends updates to their anti-virus software to guard against the attack.