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2008/04/07 22:00

Urgent Virus Alert! [HOAX]

The pesky chain letter that never dies.


Scenario:  You get an e-mail with a scary subject line that says something like

"(WARNING WARNING) URGENT VIRUS ALERT! (!!!!)"

plus or minus a few "!!!!", and maybe some "***" thrown in for good measure.  The e-mail was forwarded to you by someone you know and probably respect who, in turn, received it from someone equally well known who received it from ... wherever.  Nobody really knows.

After reading through many layers of forwarding addresses (this is a "chain letter"), you finally get down to the actual message, the source of all the angst, about a "new" and vicious computer virus which wrecks your computer.

The message might resemble the following sample of an actual scare-mail.  Our comments are orange, in braces.  As you read, consider the "double talk" in this message, especially if this e-mail itself originally carried a virus:
"I checked with Norton Antivirus {so did we - no such alert} and they are gearing up for this virus so I believe this is real. I checked snopes.com {no such alert} and this is for real.

"Get this sent around to your contacts ASAP...we don't need this spreading around.  {Sure: "send it around so it doesn't spread around"!}

"READ AS SOON AS POSSIBLE  PLEASE FORWARD THIS WARNING AMONG FRIENDS, FAMILY AND CONTACTS:

"You should be alert during the next days: Do not open any message with an attached filed called "Invitation" regardless of who sent it.  {The hacker was smart enough to engineer this, but too dumb to vary the subject line!}  It is a virus that opens an Olympic Torch which "burns" the whole hard disc
C of your computer.. {"Burns"?  The whole hard drive can be erased by booting from a specially designed "nuke" disk, but no fire is involved.}  This virus will be received from someone who has your e-mail address in his/her contact list {just like this e-mail}, that is why you should send this e-mail to all your contacts.  {A reason to spread the joy.}  It is better to receive this message 25 times than to receive the virus and o pen it .  {But after seeing this same scare-mail 100 times, one might prefer the virus after all.}

"If you receive a mail called "invitation", though sent by a friend, do not open it and shut down your computer immediately.  {But this was sent by a friend and you did open it.  It wasn't called "Invitation", but might have contained a virus.  If you shut down, the virus is still there, so you can't ever use your computer again?  What do you do when the STOP sign doesn't change?}  This is the worst Virus announced by CNN {no such alert}, it has been classified by Microsoft {no such alert} as the most
destructive virus ever. This virus was discovered by McAfee {no such alert} yesterday, and there is no repair yet for this kind of virus. This virus simply destroys the Zero Sector of the Hard Disc, where the vital information is
kept.  {OK, so that business about torching the whole hard drive was another lie.}

"SEND THIS E-MAIL TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW. COPY THIS E-MAIL AND SEND IT TO YOUR FRIENDS AND REMEMBER: IF YOU SEND IT TO THEM, YOU WILL BENEFIT ALL OF US {by bogging down the Internet}."
This sounds bad - except for two things.  First, if you actually follow up by doing searches on CNN, Snopes, Microsoft, or any major security sites (see below), you will find no mention of such a virus.  Second, we first saw this e-mail in August, 2006, with exactly the same wording!  Maybe its author meant "yesteryear".

Major security companies - Bitdefender, Kaspersky, Avira, Norton, Avast, NOD32, AVG, McAfee, or Trend Micro - use world-wide threat tracking systems and include virus alert mechanisms in their software, so you get near-real-time (in terms of minutes) alerts and automatic security updates anytime you are connected to the internet.

Think about that.  Assuming your security software can both update itself and warn you of current threats in minutes, an actual virus takes many hours to spread very far, and it will be several more hours or days before your friend receives that chain letter and forwards it to you.

Even if the warning were legitimate (but it never is), it would be useless.  Sadly, it is simple fear-mongering, and a waste of everyone's computing resources and time.

If you are running a current version of one of the above security brands with full protection turned on, including automatic updates, and you see it updating every day or so, and if you practice safe computing then you're safe.

Note that if you use free security software, you may have to update it manually through an options menu.  This is not real-time, therefore your risk is higher.

Rather than complaining to the company that their free software isn't as good as the stuff you have to buy, or worse, getting hit by a virus, spend some money on real protection.  An intruder or a virus can cost you a lot more.



This page via Twitter:
Vintage 'Olympic Torch' virus scare-mail HOAX is going around again - http://bit.ly/oSZiQx

now reading: Urgent Virus Alert! [HOAX] (Olympic Torch - Invitation - CNN)
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