Hoax Viruses

I sent this out to a local mailing list after yet-still-another hoax “virus alert” was circulated. We can browbeat well-meaning friends for propagating such trash as much as we want, but so long as they believe they are actually doing their friends a favor by “passing along” such news, we don’t stand a chance. I took this approach instead.

Dear friends: please DO NOT forward this email to anyone. It is intended only for you. It contains information about virus hoaxes, and how to discuss them with friends or club members without starting a chain letter.

We should be able to see now why the “hoax virus” propagation method is so effective. Despite all the warnings and dark incantations against evil, the reflex to warn our friends is a strong one.

So, what we do when we suspect a virus attack? Even more interestingly: what if we’re actually attacked by a virus? Should we NOT tell our friends, for fear of being the one who cried “wolf” once too often?

These are the considerations that virus hoaxes prey upon. That’s why I said it could happen to anyone.

Most of us have also received ACTUAL viruses, as distinct from “virus warnings”. Whether real or phony, here is some information we PAUG members can use to protect ourselves from real or hoax viruses.

1. Do not open unknown email attachments from non-trusted sources. You can scan your email for viruses, or trash the email, or write the sender for more information. People should not be sending unidentified attachments anyway; legitimate attachments arrive by invitation and with an adequate description of what it is, and what it does.

2. If your email “warning” has been FORWARDED to you, most email clients display this with > >> multiple hash marks. You should NOT forward this kind of mail to people who did not request it and weren’t in on the original conversation thread. If this sort of mail is also a “virus warning”, chances are better than 99% it’s a hoax.

3. Virus hoaxes are a particularly virulent form of electronic gossip. They work by tricking well-meaning people into propagating a falsehood. Tell-tale signs include invoking a higher authority (IBM, Microsoft, etc.) without links to the actual “information source”. Hoaxes hint that something terrible will happen if you don’t pass the email on to everybody you know.

4. Hoaxes can be stopped dead in their tracks by a very simple investigation. Please bookmark the following Symantec virus information center:

http://www.symantec.com/avcenter/hoax.html

When you receive information about an alleged virus, check it out at Symantec. McAffee and other anti-virus vendors may have similar sites. Lists of new and shopworn virus hoaxes are a one-click shopping trip. They make pretty amusing reading, too.

5. What should I do if a virus actually attacks my computer? (a) Go to one of the sites above (or get a friend to) and find out how to get rid of it. (b) DO NOT compose your own personalized warning letter to your friends (it may be propagated), and DO NOT ask them to pass it on to everyone they know. Instead, tell them you were attacked by computer virus named such-and-such, and that you urge them to get information about it from the Symantec (or other) anti-virus center that you have bookmarked. Period.

6. SUGGESTED FORMAT FOR CORRESPONDING WITH FRIENDS ABOUT VIRUSES

A. I learned some useful information about a new virus named ________

(1) it is a real virus, and attacked my computer ( )

(2) it is a virus hoax ( )

B. For more information, I’m recommending you only refer to a professional “trusted source” of information, such as:

http://www.symantec.com/avcenter/hoax.html

C. Please DO NOT forward this email on to others. I do not want to start a chain letter, only to let my friends know what I found out about the problem.

Cheers, everybody.

see also: Chain Mail Hoaxes in our Commentary section.

December 22, 2000

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