A dating website that can only be accessed by web users deemed attractive by other members has been attacked by a virus that saw 30,000 new users given access the service.

BeautifulPeople.com requires members to vote on whether new users are good looking before they are given access to the site. The virus, which has been nicknamed 'Shrek' after the animated tale about an Ogre that learns looks don't matter, removed this process ensuring thousands of new web users could join the site.

However, the site's owners have now axed those new members they don't deem beautiful enough, in a move which has cost more than $100,000 (£62,000) in refunded memberships.

"We got suspicious when tens of thousands of new members were accepted over a six-week period, many of whom were no oil painting,'' Managing director Greg Hodge said.

''We responded immediately, repairing the damage from the Shrek virus and putting in of the virus but believes it may have been every new member back into the rating module for a legitimate and democratic vote. The result is that we have lost over 30,000 recent members."

The website is investigating the origin of the virus but believes a former employee may be behind the malware. The firm said no personal details were accessed by the virus and his offering a helpline for those that have been rejected by the site.

''We have sincere regret for the unfortunate people who were wrongly admitted to the site and who believed, albeit for a short while, that they were beautiful," said Hodge.

''It must be a bitter pill to swallow, but better to have had a slice of heaven then never to have tasted it at all.''

Last year, the site caused controversy when it removed 5,000 members for gaining weight.

However, Graham Cluley from security firm Sophos believes it’s more likely to be a publicity stunt than an actual malware attack.

“It's a fantastic piece of chicanery, of course, designed to boost awareness of the dating website, get them many thousands of pounds of free publicity with little risk of damage to their reputation,” said Cluley in a blog.

According to Cluley, the website explains that it doesn’t need to inform any computer security firms about the malware as it is being "investigated internally", and a "former employee.. placed the virus before leaving the team" and "despite wreaking havoc with the application process, member privacy and security was never breached."

“Phew! So, lots of publicity for the website but nothing for current or future members to worry about then,” he says.

Furthermore, Cluely acknowledges the website's PR agency admitted the move was designed to "provoke media attention with a controversial press release... to attract more hits and applications, [and] to generate extensive global coverage".

“My bet is that BeautifulPeople has just come up with its latest publicity stunt - and you know what? It's worked,” he added.