When is a virus not a virus?

The last month has been frustrating for many computer users—and costly for many companies.
The proliferation of the “Sobig.F” virus and the “Blaster” virus has done everything from fill the inboxes of users to rendering corporate servers inoperable because of the deluge of traffic.
One local company apparently had its entire internal network taken down by the Blaster virus. Business Week estimated that “SoBig.F” cost businesses a total of almost $1 billion worldwide.
There’s no question virus infection is one of the biggest issues with computer systems today. Truthfully, if your computer is connected to the Internet and you don’t have virus protection software installed and up-to-date, you’re taking a huge risk.
Unfortunately, the proliferation of virii spread via e-mail has contributed to another growing problem: hoax virus alerts.
Almost as long as there have been virus alerts, there have been fake virus alerts. They usually warn that an e-mail with a specific subject line should not be opened, since it is a virus that will erase your hard drive.
“Join the crew,” “It Takes Guts,” and “WTC Survivor” are just a few of the hundreds of phony virus alerts circulating via e-mail. Well-meaning friends and colleagues indiscriminately forward the information on—ostensibly in the interests of the public good.
The fact these alerts spread misinformation actually is the secondary problem. The larger issue with these fake alerts is the resources that these messages consume.
Much as real virii wreak havoc with computers and networks, phony warnings use up bandwidth as they are passed on.
I have to confess to an embarassing incident several years ago. I received a hoax alert and, like a conscientious computer consultant, forwarded the message on to clients and colleagues.
I received a message back from one of them gently remonstrating me for sending out a message that contained false information.
The fact that I received the message was cause for chagrin on my part. The humiliating part was that he also sent his response to all of the others I had sent the message to.
I haven’t sent a false warning out since. Now, I research every warning that shows up in my inbox. I’m the one who sends out the message to the well-meaning offender—and all of their recipients.
In all seriousness, before you pass on virus alerts, or any other type of e-mail warning or offer for that matter, do a little bit of research first. There are some excellent resources available to track down the validity of these warnings:
•Sophos virus hoax list:
http://www.sophos.com/virusinfo/hoaxes/
•Vmyths: Myths, Hoaxes & Urban Legends:
http://www.vmyths.com/
•Symantec Security Response Hoax Page:
http://www.symantec.com/avcenter/hoax.html
•HOAXBUSTERS Home Page:
http://hoaxbusters.ciac.org/

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