[ISN] Managing - Cyberscares - E-Mail Hoaxes Press 'Aggravate' Button

From: mea culpa (jerichoat_private)
Date: Wed Jun 24 1998 - 23:40:48 PDT

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    Forwarded From: Nicholas Charles Brawn <ncb05at_private>
    The Globe and Mail
    A friend or co-worker may have E-mailed you about the latest threat from
    cyberspace: "VIRUS ALERT!!! If you receive an E-mail entitled 'Win a
    Holiday' DO NOT open it."
    You're then told all the horrible things that will happen if you ignore the
    warning and read one of these diseased E-mails - usually a deleted hard
    drive or something equally dire. And you're instructed to pass the warning
    on to as many people as possible. Some chain letters claim to be
    transmitting a warning put out by Microsoft Corp. or America Online Inc.
    The only thing missing is a real virus. The E-mail warnings are hoaxes,
    which have snowballed to the point where Internet veterans groan at their
    mere mention. They seem to endlessly circulate, never running out of steam.
    For the past half decade, dozens of variations of the virus warning have
    made the E-mail rounds, each one as unfounded as the last. They're kept
    alive by well-intentioned folks who find the message in their in-boxes,
    then pass it on to everyone in their address books.
    They are falling victim to a simple practical joke, says Jim Carroll,
    co-author of The 1998 Canadian Internet Handbook. It's a joke that depends
    on the naivete of users who aren't yet comfortable with the Internet's
    "People have a tendency to believe the worst about technology," he says.
    "There's an implicit distrust."
    These hoaxes don't require a lot of know-how to launch - just an E-mail
    account and a mischievous mind. And the motivation? The messages accomplish
    little besides slowing down the Internet and aggravating users. Mr. Carroll
    says his best guess is that the perpetrators are long-time users who get a
    kick out of duping the "newbies."
    One thing is certain - the viruses aren't real. You can't get one from
    reading the text of an E-mail message, no matter how many exclamation marks
    are in the title. Viruses are only a concern if the E-mail contains an
    attachment that you have to click on to execute.
    "The basic advice we give everybody is if somebody sends you an attachment
    you didn't request, treat it with extreme caution," says Wolfgang Stiller,
    president of Stiller Research in Colorado Springs, Colo., a developer of
    antivirus software.
    So what's the best thing to do when you get an E-mail warning about a virus
    you can contract by reading it? Delete it. Tell the person who sent it that
    they just bought into one of the oldest cyberhoaxes.
    One Web site set up by IBM (www.av.ibm.com/BreakingNews/HypeAlert/) is
    devoted to debunking such myths. It traces the original Good Times hoax
    (similar to the Win a Holiday version, but with a different title) back to
    1994, when a university student posted the false warning on America Online.
    Four years later, Mr. Stiller's company still receives at least one or two
    phone calls and E-mail messages a day inquiring about the Good Times virus.
    More recently, imitators have made the rounds, including the currently
    popular Win a Holiday.
    As with previous hoaxes, Internet users are warned via E-mail to
    immediately delete any message received with Win a Holiday in the subject
    line. They are urged to pass the warning on quickly.
    The latest version doesn't score points for originality, but it is just as
    aggravating as its predecessors.
    "The biggest problem I have with these things is the waste of bandwidth,"
    says Tom Foottit, an Internet software developer with Nepean, Ont.-based
    SeeWind Design.
    The Internet, he says, is like a pipe that only so much water can fit
    through at once. When that pipe is clogged with virus warnings, everything
    else slows down.
    And the culprits aren't always Internet neophytes. Paul Krakowiak, manager
    of Ottawa-based Internet service provider Trytel Internet Inc., is still
    feeling red-faced after passing on a warning about the Join the Crew virus
    (same hoax, different title) to his subscribers in February.
    "It was a mistake," Mr. Krakowiak says, adding that he sent an apology soon
    afterward. "Basically, I got confirmation from some idiot at (Northern
    Telecom Ltd.) who told me it was real."
    "WARNING! Reading this story could cause blindness. Please tell everyone
    around you to put down their newspapers."
    It would never work.
    You just can't pull the same kind of gags with a technology that people are
    comfortable with.
    Toronto Globe and Mail
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