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Viruses & Hoaxes

by John Staunton

The wave of computer viruses and the virus "scares" that have plagued PC and Macintosh users for the past decade have recently spawned a new annoyance; the virus hoax. A virus hoax is spread by Email and usually asks recipients to pass the message along to "everyone you know". The perpetrators of these pranks seem to get some sort of satisfaction from the attention they create. While most are seemingly a harmless annoyance, these hoaxes can actually represent a significant cost to the industry due to the added load on Email servers and the extra bandwidth that they can consume. There are also a few hoaxes that advise you to take "corrective" action that could actually damage your system. Here are a few tips on How to spot a virus hoax. And a list of known hoaxes.

While many of the Email forwards we see today are actually hoaxes, there are still new real viruses being passed each day. Computer virus functions range from running a harmless image across your screen to serious damage such as erasing files, reformatting hard disks and disabling operating systems. Most are embedded in Email attachments or downloaded files. Everyone who receives Email, downloads files from any remote server (via the Internet or a dedicated network), or shares files via removable media (diskette, Zip disk, etc.) can be vulnerable to a virus attack.

Some tips to protect your system against infection are:

  • Install a commercial virus scan or shield program on your PC. If you download files often, the virus detection program should be loaded into memory. If you are a network administrator, ensure that every user has a virus protection utility installed.

  • Avoid opening Email attachments received from a stranger or that you did not expect.

  • Be particularly suspicious of Word documents or Excel files that attempt to invoke a macro when you open them. When in doubt, always check the "Disable macros" box.

  • Avoid opening files with extensions .bat .com .exe .pif .scr .vbs. These are executable programs that could launch a virus. If you receive such a file, confirm it's origin with the sender before opening it. If you don't know the sender, delete it!

Hilltop maintains a list of know viruses for your reference. Other sources of current virus information include:

Organizations:

  • CERT® - Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute
  • FedCIRC - the US governments computer security organization
  • ICSA Antivirus pages
  • HoaxKill - a site dedicated to combating hoaxes.
  • Software Vendors:
  • Comodo Security Solutions
  • McAfee
  • Trend Micro
  • Norton Antivirus from Symantec
  • F-Secure Security Solutions
  • Microsoft security tools
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