Hoax, chain letters and viruses


Dear family & friends,

Since several months we receive a series of mails from you which are in fact forwards of mails you received. While we always appreciate to hear from you, we also want to inform you on a phenomenon of modern society that can cause damage to you and your installations.

To tell you the little story first:

We received a specific warning from one of our friends, a knowledgeable computer guy. He informed us that he personally had sent us a virus, and he gave the description. The file mentioned was only on the one of our computers where we received his mail. He recommended to delete it.

His warning was a hoax, circulating in his specific community. He had translated it into French. We would have deleted a system file on our computer.

His recall of its first message came several hours later. No damage happened, but we have never been that close.

We give you here a little collection of advise and explanation. We are living in a world where terrorist attacks come daily to our computer installations. Fight them!

Q: Why fight hoaxes and chain letters?
A: Please find the following notice from the http://intranet.chrysler.com/admin/cmipsite/hoax_chain_letters.shtml site:
Virus Hoaxes and Chain Letters
  Have you received an e-mail message recently warning of a potential computer virus and asking that you forward the message to warn others? The Internet community is constantly being bombarded with chain letters in the form of e-mail messages. They claim all manner of warnings and dire notices of doom and gloom for your computer systems or for some poor soul somewhere, all of which will be saved if you just send this message on to all of your friends.
  In the years before computers, chain letters were common and were sent by U.S. mail and required a stamp. This limited the extent to which chain letters were passed on, because sending them involved a real, up front cost in time and money to type the letters, address the envelopes and purchase the stamps. Today, with the click of a button, a message can be forwarded to hundreds of people at no apparent cost to the sender. If each of the so-called good Samaritans sends the letter on to only ten other people (most send to huge mailing lists), the ninth resending results in a billion e-mail messages, thereby, clogging the network and interfering with the receiving of legitimate e-mail messages. Factor in the time lost reading and deleting all these messages and you see a real cost to organizations and individuals from these seemingly innocuous messages.
How do you recognize a chain letter?
  They all have a similar pattern. From the older printed letters to the newer electronic kind, they all have three recognizable parts:
  1. A hook
  2. A threat
  3. A request
  First, there is a hook, to catch your interest and get you to read the rest of the letter. Hooks used may be "Bud-Frogs screen saver virus," "Make Money Fast," "Get Rich," "Free Money," "Danger!," "Virus Alert," or "A Little Girl Is Dying."
  When you are hooked, you read on to the threat. Some threats warn you about the terrible things that will happen if you do not maintain the chain; others play on greed or sympathy to get you to pass the letter on. The threat often contains official or technical sounding language to get you to believe it is real.
  Finally, you reach the request. Some older chain letters ask you to mail a dollar to the top ten names on the letter and then pass it on. The electronic ones simply admonish you to "Distribute this letter to as many people as possible." They never mention clogging the Internet or the fact that the message is a fake, they only want you to pass it on to others.

Q: What should you do if you receive a chain letter in your E-Mail?
A: Delete it! Don't forward the message!! If you want to confirm that the message is indeed a hoax, check it out: There is a description of all viruses and hoax virus warnings in the Symantec Antivirus Center. There are several  websites for hoax warnings.

Q: Now, i will not sent virus warnings any more, and never ask again to delete a file on my system. But how about that nice PowerPoint presentation that matches the Sunday sermon in church? The poem i got from a good friend? The funny picture i got yesterday? The joke i thought so funny? The little swinging comic or dancing christmas tree?

There is no one-fits-all answer. But beware: Viruses travel by mail, but for now they mostly do this via attachments. So while you are watching that little show with the cute girl dancing on your screen, your files might be wiped in the background. But of course not every animated picture is a virus - most of them aren't!


How to be safe(r) against viruses?


First, you need a good antivirus software. 

Second, you need to update the virus definitions. These updates can be downloaded from the net. You need to do this about once a week. (Yes: once a week. The updates are needed to fight against the actual viruses circulating. You hardly need to fight against a virus that run havoc on your PC when Bill Gates was still in highschool.)

Third, sorry Bill, today's trend is to use macro viruses. Most of the time, they attack Outlook, the mail system, and have it do weird things. Outlook is a good software. I do not use it because of this. Why buy a sleek car if every thief learns how to steal it?

  See which Viruses are around today. Are you protected?

Interactive Map showing the actual Virus threats:



This is my policy:

  1. I erase every mail with an attachment that comes from a person i do not know.
  2. I have installed a free mail address on an Internet-based server for all jokes etc. I never try an attachment from my computer at home. I try them once i am protected behind a firewall. Now, many of those little programs do not like this and will not run. Then i have no regret to delete them.
  3. I do not forward received mail to others when the sender requests this. Probably all my soul problems are due to non-forwarded soul-saving mail. Specially, i do not clog the mailboxes of my friends with heavy files that take hours to download. (I do not own shares in their telecom provider neither, maybe that is why.)
  4. I forward good thoughts or jokes if they come as plain text. Plain text does not execute anything on the computer. (I erase the 'forwarded by' tails, courtesy to the reader).
  5. I will not forward virus warnings. I might tell my friends to upgrade their virus definitions.
  6. It happened twice that good jokes had the form of a virus warning or a chain letter. In this case, i marked them as such before forwarding.


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Upd. 26 janv. 2007