Identifying an email/internet hoax

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From time to time email users will receive messages that have incorrect or misleading information; sometimes from seemingly reputable and authoritative sources. To help discern the validity of such information, we have provided this short guide.

1. How can I tell if the message is a hoax?

http://HoaxBusters.ciac.org/The CIAC is the accepted database of information on any threat to networks; this includes viruses, internet rumors, and server security issues.

http://www.symantec.com/avcenter/hoax.htmlThe Symantec page on virus hoaxes is also a good resource of information about these stories that waste time and cause undue panic among email users. Their objective is to help users separate the real virus threats from those that simply annoy us.

http://urbanlegends.about.com/This one is an entertaining foray into the gullible mind of humanity; not only is this a good place to look up a story you may wonder about — it’s also fun reading! The About.com site is home to a plethora of information on a wide variety of topics – including folklore. This is a well-organized place to search for the story-of-the-week.

Also, if the message in question is legitimate, you will see the email address of the original sender and a web address with further information. DON’T trust the message just because the names of reputable companies are mentioned; for instance, if Microsoft or Sony issues a press release, there will be a corresponding web page with the warning posted on their site. If you don’t see a web address backing up the email message, there probably is no truth to the story.

2. How do I know if the threat is real?
Visit one of the following web sites maintained by people who work all day, every day, to track and document virus behavior and measure threats to your computer (real and imagined).

3. Should I pass it along to all my friends?
NO. Instead, the most helpful action you can take to caution your friends is to give them the advice in section ‘5’, below…

4. What should I do when I receive a virus warning?
Assuming that there is a valid warning that needs to be published; little red flags should go up in your head whenever you receive a message that says something like, “no one knows about this yet – hurry and pass it along to all your friends…” For instance, when the ‘Happy99.exe’ virus was discovered overseas, the CNN web site (and their paper publication) warned about it _weeks_ before it actually reached American shores. The lesson: if CNN doesn’t know about it, it probably isn’t true! The same goes for ABC, MSNBC, and many other news organizations; they make their money by getting the news in a timely fashion, and by being as accurate as possible.

Their web sites, respectively, are:

Each of these web sites has a ‘Search’ or ‘Find’ button that will help you locate articles published on any subject easily.

5. How do I keep from getting infected by a virus?
It is a good idea to install up-to-date antivirus software on your computer; choose a package that will let you download monthly updates (for free) from their web site; this way, you know your software is intelligent enough to deal with all the latest threats.

More importantly, you should follow the same advice the US Postal Service gives about receiving packages from their couriers: If you don’t know what it is, if you don’t know who sent it, or if the packaging seems a little strange, DON’T OPEN IT.

Receiving an email message with a malicious payload cannot do any damage to your computer, no matter how dire the warnings sound. BUT OPENING AN ATTACHED FILE CAN ALLOW A VIRUS TO ATTACK YOUR DOCUMENTS, YOUR APPLICATION SOFTWARE, OR YOUR OPERATING SYSTEM. Rumors aside, there is no way a virus can destroy your power supply, monitor, keyboard, mouse, cables, etc.

When in doubt, throw it out!

6. Why do these hoax messages keep getting recycled?
The ploy is referred to as ‘trolling for newbies’ — the act of locating (& ridiculing) people that are new to the internet and collecting their addresses for fun and profit.

Sometimes it’s teenagers who are curious as to how many people will fall for the message. Many times, though, the messages are initiated by unscrupulous companies who want to collect lists of email addresses that they can later send junk mail (often referred to as ‘SPAM’) to.

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