Spam frequently grabs the headlines these days as organisations step up their efforts to counter the threat of of viruses. Hoax emails, however, continue to gain in prevalence, says recent research from anti-virus software specialist Sophos.
Users tend to delete spam email as soon as they spot it, unless they genuinely want to know about the miracle fountain of youth that is human growth hormone. However, hoax emails are usually sent unwittingly by well-meaning friends or colleagues to warn users about a virus that, in reality, does not exist. More seriously, they often instruct users to immediately delete some innocuous-looking – but vital – part of their Windows installation, and in addition, advise recipients to forward these instructions to everyone they know.
Needless to say, the hoax is usually just a relatively simple attempt to clog up the world’s email systems with pointless warnings, or at worst, an act of sabotage designed to get users to destabilise their own PCs.
“All too often, users receiving email warnings of viruses circulate them to all their contacts in the mistaken belief they are doing good,” says Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos. “In reality, these actions cause uncertainty, waste bandwidth, clog up email servers and spread disinformation.” Businesses should instruct all employees to send such emails to a single, nominated person, who is responsible for checking out whether the threat is real or fake, Cluley advises.
For the benefit of these nominated individuals, here are some of the top hoaxes from November 2002:
Budweiser frogs screen saver
The message says that a screen saver of the frogs featured in adverts for Budweiser beer is being emailed around, but that the screen saver is actually a virus. There is, in fact, no known virus or Trojan horse that masquerades as this screen saver.
The email says that a Windows file with a teddy bear icon is a virus and should be deleted immediately. The file is actually part of Microsoft’s Java installation.
While claiming to be a protest letter against a Japanese man who commits the unlikely crime of squeezing cats into bottles online, this is really a chain letter designed to clog up inboxes. The web site is, in fact, a harmless satirical site.
Mobile phone hoax
Advises users not to answer any phone calls where the call registers as ‘Unavailable’, or else the phone will get a virus. Motorola and Nokia have already confirmed it – the calls are perfectly safe.