if in doubt, check it out

13 11 2007

It’s not very often that I post more than once in one day.  I usually have too much going on.  The nature of this post is nothing new, but it certainly bears repeating.

It’s about emails that we receive that warn us of impending doom to our computers.  There are many that float around in cyberspace – one was sent to me today – and many have done the circuit a few times.

If you should receive a warning email from a friend who is not a geek (computer guru, etc.) that warns about an email that is going around and may attack your computer, or some email that threatens your very existence on this planet, PLEASE investigate before opening it!

Do not open the email first off.  Depending on the email service you use, you should first off not have your email so it opens when you open the application (ie Outlook).  Set it to list the email titles only.  If you don’t know how to do it, ask a geek.  This will help reduce problems with programs that do attack when opened.  This is basic good self-defense for email.

 If you then get one of these warning type emails, type the title (or cut/paste) into a search engine – my favourite is Google – and see what you get.  What you are looking for in the list of sites your search brings up is the word “hoax.”  There are some sites dedicated to letting people know about hoaxes that are going around.  Today’s special was the Olympic Torch hoax and I Googled it and found it listed on a McAfee hoax page.

So, now you can delete it and NOT send it on to your friends. 

The problem that I envision with some of these hoaxes is that, if I was malicious I would attach a virus to the warning.  What a great way to get in!  Tell people that there is an email circulating (which they’ll never see) that is the bad, virus plagued message, but really it’s YOUR message.  Could be very effective.

The other types of email messages that can be very damaging are ones that tell you that somehow your computer may have been hacked and a file deposited on your computer.  It then tells you in great detail how to find that file – which is always there – and then tells you how to delete it.

The problem is when that file was SUPPOSED to be there.  There are many files on a computer that when deleted can stop making your programs or, in a worst case scenario – your whole computer, stop working properly. 

That was the case for my introduction to the whole world of hoax emails.  Fortunately, when I received that email, I checked with my brother (a well researched computer dude) who warned me about it and showed me the first hoax site I’d seen.  On that site was listed – word for word – the email that had been sent to me, declaring it to be a hoax and to NOT go around deleting files on your computer without knowing what they do.

Now back to the unasked question from the beginning of this post.  What do you do if you received a warning from someone you consider to be a geek or other computer genious?  What the heck, Google it anyway.  Worst case scenario is that you will find out that it’s real.

If you have some downtime, I highly recommend a site like McAfee’s.  Click on the different hoaxes and read them.  Forwarned is forearmed, or something like that.  It may help you recognize a  hoax when it comes your way.  

And if you are ever in doubt, feel free to ask a geek.  If they are really a geek, they’ll love to show what they know about computers and be happy to help you out.  And sure, drop me a line.  If I don’t know the answer to your question, I will gladly try to find someone who does.

As a final note, please make sure that you use some sort of virus protection for your computer.  I believe you should have a firewall, email screening software, and perhaps even an active scanning tool.  There are many options out there today – ask your friends what they like to use, but also make sure that you keep it up to date.

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