If you received an email from a friend or family member, warning you about a dangerous new virus and telling you how you could prevent it, would you forward it to all your own contacts?
Most people would as they like to look out for their friends.
In some respects thats a good move as warning your friends will help them prepare themselves so that they can keep their own systems secure.
Unfortunately, however, the majority of these emailed messages are not true, they are virus hoaxes.
It would be simple then to dismiss virus hoaxes as just a distraction but that would be missing the point – they actually deflect attention away from real threats and can lead to someone becoming infected after they have developed a blase approach to any future warnings they happen to read.
Spotting A Virus Hoax
Spotting hoaxes, whether they be about viruses or not, is a relatively simple affair.
Most of them follow a similar theme in that they will claim to have originated from a large, well-known and legitimate company.
This is a deliberate ploy from the writer of the hoax who will be hoping to add an element of authenticity to their claims.
The companies named in a virus hoax may respond to virus warnings but rarely, if ever, make them.
If a warning was legitimate then the email would almost certainly link to a web page with more information, whilst a hoax obviously wouldn’t for obvious reasons.
Another way of spotting a virus hoax is to look at the style of the message.
As hoax warnings are not written by bona fide security companies their wording tends to differ from what you may see in an official press release, for example.
Also, the warning may be lacking in information, such as –
- Precisely who is at risk?
- Which operating system?
- Which software?
- Which versions?
- When will a patch or fix be released?
- Where on the Internet should you look for it?
- Why is there no cure?
All of the above details would be present in a legitimate virus warning, but tend to be missing in a hoax.
Finally, and perhaps most tellingly, a virus hoax will always ask you to inform all your friends which is the whole point – the writer wants his bogus message to spread far and wide.
Confirming A Virus Hoax
The above advice on how to spot a virus hoax will only take you so far – the writers of such messages don’t tend to be stupid and are always evolving.
Sooner or later you are bound to receive a virus warning that includes just enough information for you to believe that it may be genuine.
If you’re not completely certain whether the message is legitimate or not then conduct further research.
There are also millions of bloggers who will write about the odd virus hoax here and there too so you should be able to find plenty of information.
Just remember to check more than one source.
If you discover that a warning you received is a hoax then be sure to tell whoever passed it on to you in the first place – they’ll then be less likely to pass on the next hoax that turns up.
So, don’t automatically believe every email warning that arrives in your inbox, but don’t assume an attachment sent to you by a friend, or a file you downloaded yesterday, is virus free either.
Check everything and stay safe.