Joined: 21 November 2004
The e-mail message goes something like this, "For every person that you forward this e-mail to, Microsoft will pay you $245" or "if you receive e-mail titled: Win A Holiday - Do Not Open It. It will erase everything on your hard drive."
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Then there's the Budweiser screensaver warning - yes, another hoax.
These types of e-mail "chain letters" are a plague to email users because they waste time or cause unnecessary panic.
The truth is that they are hoaxes. But how do you know for sure? By applying a little bit of knowledge and common sense.
Here's some telltale signs of an e-mail hoax.
They all reference an Internet authority, sometimes it's IBM or Microsoft or America Online - in some cases, it may be all three.
The author promises that the catastrophic virus will arrive as e-mail and wipe out a computer's hard drive. They also encourage the recipient to spread the word about the impending evil that's about to descent on a hard drive.
That line is the giveaway to the hoax.
It is the reason for the e-mail's existence and means to how it is replicated over the Net. Basically, the author of the letter/e-mail is taking advantage of people's good nature and the quick dissemination ability of the Internet.
E-mail is a text file that arrives on a hard drive from the Internet. But, unlike a piece of software, or a macro program, it is not executed or interpreted by your computer system.
In order for a computer virus to spread, it needs to execute some code or programming instructions to cause the desired havoc. Since e-mail is purely a text file, it cannot be executed. Even if it's a Web document that arrives in e-mail - called an HTML file in web lingo - it is unlikely to do much harm because Web page technologies - like Active X or Java -- are a difficult medium to build viruses in because they have been design to be secure.
There is, however, a couple of exceptions to this rule.
If e-mail has a file attachment such as a game or a file saved as a word processing or spreadsheet document, then it may contain a virus through the executive program buried in the file format. But, to spread the virus, you would need to open and run the file in question.
Secondly, if the attached file is a document from an office suite program, such as Microsoft Word, then it may contain a macro-virus. Today's advanced office packages often have macro file capabilities, and virus writers like to exploit these potentially weak areas of attack.
A macro is a sort of programming language that can be embedded into a document to perform simple tasks like math or mini-tools that help with the file format. Should a system become infected through such a virus, in most cases it can be easily removed with one of the commercial anti-virus programs. If a program arrives as an attachment, it can be scanned with an anti-virus program to clean it before it's run.
However, getting rid of the e-mail virus hoax is not as easy a task. It can be deleted it from a mailbox, but sure enough, just like a real virus, it is likely to show up again because some well-meaning person or friend on the Net will fall for the joke and you're going to be on their mailing list.
Further information on hoax viruses should is available at the Data Fellows web site at http://www.Europe.Datafellows.com/news/hoax.htm/.
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