It is not always the case that people are complacent about their security systems. Sometimes, your friends or colleagues can be very alert and concerned about malicious programs in the “wild”. It is not uncommon for you to find messages from your colleagues and friends warning you of some newly discovered computer virus in your email inbox and not to open email attachments of a particular nature. Often these messages are meant to warn you beforehand about the havoc that the virus can create if you happen to become an unfortunate victim.
However, it is often the case that the virus you were warned about actually does not exist.
- What exactly is a virus hoax?
- Damage caused by these hoaxes
- A sample hoax
- So, how to how to differentiate between a Hoax and a real warning?
A virus hoax is a simple helpful-looking message warning you of a non-existent computer virus. In most cases, the sender of such a message is your friend or colleague who, most likely, had received a similar message. They would have believed it and would have forwarded the warning to you to help you out.
Virus hoaxes are very much like chain letters, as they spread far and fast, as people good willingly forward these messages to others. The main objective of the perpetrator here is to convince the receiver of the hoax to forward the message to their friends. This is how a virus hoax spreads.
Therefore, successful virus hoaxes have basically two common things:
Often virus hoaxes have technical-sounding language. They use technical jargons to make the message sound authentic and computer novices feel that the danger is real.
Source of the message
The original message often appears to come from a credible source, for example, from someone with a big title and working in a large corporation.
Due to these two traits, many people become convinced that these messages are real. (“They sound so authentic!” one may say.)
Most virus hoaxes are just warnings. When you help to spread the hoax, you tend to create the following impacts:
Obviously, the person receiving the message from you is going to experience some panic, leading to stress. (Not unlike yourself when you received the message.) He/She is going to further forward the message to even more people with perfectly good intentions and unaware of the trouble he/she is about to create.
The needless messages you forward will clog the computer network and waste bandwidth. This is a waste of resources as networks will slow down and, on a nation-wide scale, months or years of productivity as well as revenue is lost.
Wastage of time and money
Whether you believe it or not, virus hoaxes bring about huge wastage of money. Even if you do not forward the message, the very action of reading, deciding the course of action and then deleting the message, wastes on an average, about sixty seconds of your time. In today’s world, time is money.
However, lately virus hoaxes have become more malicious in nature. Some recent virus hoaxes, instead of just warning the user of the hoax, claim that you are already a victim, and give the recipient false information on how to remove the virus. Youths who just want to grab everyone’s attention and cause some serious panic are usually at the root of this problem. The message typically instructs the user to delete some specific files from your computer and in most cases, these files happen to be critical system that are important for the functioning of your computer. Deleting the files as instructed leads to dire consequences, like damaging your operating system.
Subject: Virus Alert
This is a warning for all internet users! There is a dangerous virus propagating across the internet through an e-mail message with the title "GOOD GREETINGS!”.
If you happen to receive an email entitled: “GOOD GREETINGS!” please delete it WITHOUT reading it. Here is a brief explanation of the message, and what it would do to your computer. DO NOT OPEN ANY MESSAGE ENTITLED "GOOD GREETINGS!" This message appears to be a friendly letter from your friend, but by the time you open the email, it is too late. The virus will have already infected the boot sector of your hard drive, destroying all of the data present. It is a self-replicating virus, and once the message is read, it will AUTOMATICALLY forward itself to all the contacts in your address book.
This virus will DESTROY your hard drive, and holds the potential to DESTROY the hard drive of anyone whose mail is in your inbox. Please, delete the message entitled "GOOD GREETINGS!" as soon as you see it! Please pass this message along to all of your friends and relatives so that they are not hurt by this dangerous virus!!!!
Here are some signs that indicate that the message that you have is probably just a hoax:
- The message specifically urges you to forward it to everyone you know (a real malicious programme would be capable of spreading itself).
- The message urges you to take immediate action by deleting some files on your computer (a real malicious programme would be capable of doing damage on its own).
- The message does not include any other links to provide you with more information on the web.
Information on recent virus hoaxes from Sophos
Symantec Security Response - Hoax Page
Don’t spread that hoax
Hoax sample: Virus Warning