The Book Report, May 2002
Ever wonder what happened to those odd classmates of yours who got their kicks from pulling fire alarms and making phone calls to strangers asking, “Is your refrigerator running?” Well, my guess is that they are all grown up (sorta) and now spend their time sitting in cubicles creating computer virus hoaxes.
As an unregulated and unedited medium, Internet mail is flooded with hoaxes, urban myths and chain letters. A great site by the Department of Energy is HoaxBusters <hoaxbusters.ciac.org/> that can help you check these spurious rumors out. Among the most pernicious and frightening hoax emails are those that warn users of potentially harmful new viruses.
I’m sure that all of us who have any claim to being techno-savvy have found in our in-box an email that looks like this that was “thoughtfully” forwarded by a colleague, friend or family member.
> VIRUS WARNING !!!!!!!Since genuine computer viruses are both common and truly harmful, email users, and especially those of us who teach others about technology, need to be able to determine whether a virus warning is real or a hoax.
> If you receive an email titled “It Takes Guts to Say ‘Jesus’” DO NOT OPEN
> It will erase everything on your hard drive. Forward this letter out to as
> many people as you can. This is a new, very malicious virus and not many
> people know about it. This information was announced yesterday morning from
There are some immediate clues that a virus warning may be a hoax: According to Joe Wells, Senior Editor of
antivirus online, (How to Spot a Virus Hoax <www.research.ibm.com/antivirus/SciPapers/Wells/ HOWTOSPOT/howtospot.html>)a hoax usually has some combination of the following attributes:
- It’s a warning message about a virus (or occasionally a Trojan) spreading on the Internet. (Some even describe a “Trojan horse virus.” There is no such thing.)
- It’s usually from an individual, occasionally from a company, but never from the cited source.
- It warns you not to read or download the supposed virus, and preaches salvation by deletion.
- It describes the virus as having horrific destructive powers and often the ability to send itself by e-mail.
- It usually has lots of words in all caps and loads of exclamation marks.
- It urges you to alert everyone you know, and usually tells you this more than once.
- It seeks credibility by citing some authoritative source as issuing the warning. Usually the source says the virus is “bad” or has them “worried.”
- It seeks credibility by describing the virus in specious technical jargon.
But why make a guess, even if it is an informed one? Since the threat of real damage by a real computer virus is possible, I always check out one of the following authoritative sources to see if the suspected hoax virus has been documented:
- Symantec virus hoax page <www.symantec.com/avcenter/hoax.html>
- McAfee virus hoax page <vil.mcafee.com/hoax.asp>
- Data Fellows hoax warnings < www.datafellows.com/news/hoax.htm>
- VMyths < www.vmyths.com/>
Both the Symantec and McAfee sites are highly credible and contain long lists of know hoax viruses, along with the real ones. I particularly like the Data Fellows page since it has a very good search engine and searches the files of both real and hoax viruses. The VMyth site, while sometimes slow to load, includes tips on dealing with email hoaxes and other supplemental information about them.
Whenever I receive a hoax virus from a concerned colleague or friend, I always alert the one who forwarded the message to the fact that the virus alert was a hoax. I also send them the URLs to these sites so that in the future they themselves can check the authenticity of a virus alert before passing it along.
In the great scheme of things, virus hoaxes tend to be more annoying than dangerous. They do add unwanted traffic to sometimes already overburdened email servers and networks, and they do take time to read, verify and delete. But probably the real concern we should have about such hoaxes is that they can create complacency about real viruses for some computer users. The boy can only cry “wolf” so many times. Again, real viruses can be damaging and we need to take serious precautions to deal with them.
Finally, be thankful that you didn’t get this virus!
Sent: 01 April 2001 09:36
Subject: FW: ***** VIRUS ALERT *****
If you receive an e-mail entitled ‘Badtimes’, delete it immediately. Do not open it. Apparently this one is pretty nasty. It will not only erase everything on your hard drive, but it will also delete anything on disks within 20 feet of your computer. It demagnetizes the stripes on ALL of your credit cards. It reprograms your PIN access code, screws up the tracking on your VCR, and uses subspace field harmonics to scratch any CDs you attempt to play.
It will recalibrate your refrigerator’s coolness settings so all your ice cream melts and your milk curdles. It will program your phone autodial to call only 1-976 sex line numbers. This virus will mix antifreeze into your fish tank. It will drink all your beer. It will leave dirty socks on the coffee table when you are expecting company.
It will replace your shampoo with engine oil and your engine oil with orange juice, all the while dating your current girl/boyfriend behind your back and billing their hotel rendezvous to your Visa card. It will cause you to run with scissors and throw things in a way that is only fun until someone loses an eye.
It will rewrite your backup files, changing all your active verbs into passive tense and incorporate undetectable misspellings which grossly change the interpretations of key sentences.
If ‘Badtimes’ is opened in Windows95/98, it will leave the toilet seat up and your hair dryer plugged in dangerously close to a full bath. It will also molecularly rearrange your aftershave/perfume, causing it to smell like dill pickles. It will install itself into your cistern, block the s-bend and cause your toilet to overflow.
In the worst case scenario, it may stick pins in your eyes.
— Author Unknown