NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article
HOAXES: The Good, the Bad and the Just Plain Ugly
by Betty Davis, Vice President - February 97
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How many of you have received an e-mail message from a friend warning you about yet another virus that is going to wipe out your hard drive, or may just nibble away at your files until you are left with gibberish? (Actually, mine look like that without a virus). And of course, you passed this warning on to your friends so they wouldn't meet with this horrible fate, didn't you?

I have had a few lulus in the past year or so, and then began to notice that the same ones were coming around again. That's why I was particularly happy to get some good debunking information from Jerry McCollough, and I'll be drawing on that for this column and maybe even squeeze out a couple more if I'm lucky,.... and you're not.

How to Identify a Hoax

There are several methods to identify virus hoaxes, but first consider what makes a successful hoax on the Internet. There are two known factors that make a successful virus hoax, and they are: (l) technical sounding language, and (2) credibility by association. If the warning uses the proper technical jargon, most individuals, including technologically savy individuals, tend to believe the warning is real.

For example, the Good Times hoax says that "...if the program is not stopped, the computer's processor will be placed in an nth-complexity infinite binary loop which can severely damage the processor...". The first time you read this, it sounds like it might be something real. With a little research, you find that there is no such thing as an nth- complexity infinite binary loop and that processors are designed to run loops for weeks at a time without damage.

The credibility part depends on who sent the message in the first place. If the janitor at a large tehnological organization sends a warning to someone outside of that organization, people on the outside tend to believe the warning because the company should know about those things. Even though the person sending the warning may not have a clue what he is talking about, the prestige of the company backs the warning, making it appear real. This is doubly so if a manager sends such a message.

Individuals should also be especially alert if the warning urges you to pass it on to your friends. This should raise a red flag that the warning may be a hoax. Another flag to watch for is when the warning indicates that it is a Federal Communication Commission(FCC) warning. According to the FCC, they have not and never will disseminate warnings on viruses. It is not part of their job.

Tune in next month to find out what these viruses are, and how to handle them.

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