Internet Hoaxes Versus REAL Virus Threats

I cannot tell you how many warnings I get each week about viruses and other disasters waiting to happen to me and my computer. The threat viruses pose to today's internet user are quite real. At the same time, the internet abounds with virus hoaxes too.

Just the other day, one of our team members received a message warning about a very problematic defect in a computer product. It was so cleverly written that he had to read more than half of it before realizing it was a hoax. Fortunately, the goal of this e-mail was to amuse and the last line boldly stated that the correspondence was a joke. Not all such e-mails are so forthright.

So, how do you know what to really take note of and what to laugh off? It is a scary question and a wrong answer could be devastating.

The goal of this article is to help you with a few principles that will make it easier. Keep in mind that these principles are not fail proof. The only way to assure that you will never lose data to a virus is to keep backups. Good virus protection software will minimize the risk, but their is no certainty that you won't "get hit" by a new release before your virus software catches up.

Principle 1
Most viruses need to be downloaded as attachments and opened (some are self opening) before they can cause damage. Generally, it is safe to receive one of these as long as you don't open it. NEVER open an attachment unless you know the person sending it and are expecting to receive it. It is a good policy to alert your recipient beforehand that you are sending some files as attachments in a separate e-mail.

Unfortunately, this is not 100% safe. I heard last week about a flaw in Microsoft Outlook that allows a virus to be executed even if the file is not downloaded. I don't know the details, but also heard that a patch was being developed by Microsoft to fix this problem.

Principle 2
Read the language of the warning. If it claims things like, "your hard drive will be erased, then your passwords will be sent to everyone" you can be a little more skeptical. If your hard drive is erased, the passwords will be gone. Often, hoaxes are so far fetched, you can pick them out.

Principle 3
The damage will be limited to the computer downloaded and the network to which it is attached. This means getting a virus on your PC will not affect your ATM cards or cause your microwave to act up (unless they are somehow networked to your PC).

Principle 4
No, humans cannot be infected by viruses you get from e-mail.

Besides viruses, there are thousands of other internet hoaxes that are spread all across the internet. The famous kidney harvest hoax is among them -- you know -- the e-mail warning about having your kidneys stolen.

I have found a few web sites dedicated to keeping up with the truth about these hoaxes. I have collected them and put them on a page for easy reference. You can find this page on our web site under the Client Resources link:

Click Here!

Your best bet for protecting your computer against viruses is good, up-to-date virus software. Your only protection against the possibility of data lose is good, regular backups. Your best protection from the constant barrage of internet hoaxes is knowledge.

The internet and the convenience of e-mail have changed our world. However, with this expanded capability comes the potential for expanded problems. I hope this article helps you to be better prepared.


Bill Snodgrass is a partner in Web-Net Solutions, a company dedicated to helping businesses get the most from
technology. His primary contribution is in the area of web site design and engineering. Web-Net Solutions offers
small to medium businesses the chance to access top level technical support, state of the art web design, and
customized programming without the need to hire full time technical personnel.

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