D.C. -- The Institute for the Investigation of Irregular Internet Phenomena
announced today that many Internet users are becoming infected by a new virus
that causes them to believe without question every groundless story, legend, and
dire warning that shows up in their inbox or on their browser...
Virus Warning, original 1998.
The first rule of all email warnings, especially
virus warnings, is that the most urgent and seemingly authentic alerts are
the ones most likely to be
they can be
forwarded to so many people at once so easily, it only takes a small percentage
of recipients to spread the well-meaning but destructive infection farther.
Never spread a virus or other type of email alert unless you are sure it isn't
a hoax. In fact, most virus hoaxes actually are the virus, using
your well-meaning heart as the agent of their continued spread across the
world. We need to get the number of people who are knowledgeable about virus
hoaxes and other fake alerts to a tipping point where not enough people
will forward them to continue their spread.
Fake alerts go well beyond virus hoaxes, and include any email warning
about consumer alerts, health or safety warnings, missing children, impending
alarming issue. Any virus or other email alert should be considered a hoax
unless specifically verified true. Hoax email warnings rarely contain
do, the inclusion is unauthorized.
A common and telltale sign of
a virus hoax or fake alert is a heartfelt appeal at the end
of the email to forward this critically
message to everyone you know (without which the writer's efforts will
have been in vain). Before forwarding any email alert, verify
it with the sites below. If you find it
is false, let the sender and other recipients know so they don't
Not only do virus hoaxes and other fake alerts spread across the world very
quickly, they also change and mutate over the weeks and years, with more tantalizing
being added along the way, sometimes with the bad guy's names updated to the
current villains. Soon hoaxes start showing up on people's web pages,
seem more authentic, and then, when we occasionally discover that supposedly
true information is outrageously false, our threshold of acceptance for all
information edges just a bit higher as we turn up the gain on the filters we
use to judge the accuracy of all information from the outside world. That can't
One nuance: virus hoax alerts have circulated for many years warning
against opening any email with the subject "Good Times", "Win a Holiday", or
similar title, since they would supposedly wreak havoc on your computer simply
act of viewing them. These virus hoaxes greatly ramped up the fear factor in
novice's hearts, and made simple use of email seem like a potentially hazardous
Until the late 1990's, there was simply no way for a virus to infect your
computer simply by opening and reading an email. However... the development
of the macro virus called Melissa in 1999
changed the game, showing that there were ways of writing viruses on Windows
computers that were triggered by simply opening an email, using scripting mechanisms
built into the operating system itself. Software patches have since eliminated
most of these problems, and the most common form of virus infection remains
file sent to you as an email attachment.
Resources. A couple of well known Internet hoaxes are described in the myths and legends section.
The following web sites track virus hoaxes and other fake alerts and maintain
searchable databases that should always be consulted to determine an alert's
authenticity before passing it
Sites on urban legends in general: