Virus Scares and Hoaxes Galore

It seems as if the holiday season can bring out the worst in some people for whatever reason-I have never figured out why. My inbox is sometimes packed with e-mail from concerned readers about this hoax or that virus. I read about viruses and hoaxes galore online as well. It seems as if there is an upsurge every year in the number, variety, and severity of these complete wastes of time. In my book, the people who perpetuate these sorts of things are either ill-informed or simply sad. If all of the energy that goes into creating these scares would go instead into some productive use, I can’t even begin to imagine the benefit to mankind as a whole. Instead, we have readers running about like Chicken Little exclaiming that the sky is falling. Of course, there is the issue of if a pandemic actually were to happen in the future, we would have to worry about what information was true and what wasn’t. This could cause a lot of confusion, especially if we had to make a tough decision during a global crisis. I hope the government would take the lead in tackling any misinformation, or at least produce an official US list of open states should we find ourselves in a lockdown. We want to be able to trust what we hear, read, and see. If we can’t do that, it will cause a lot of issues and maybe even lives.

John Dvorak ran an article in his blog the other day entitled, “Did You Fall for the Facebook Hoax?” I’m not too thrilled about some of the language he used, but the information he provides is right on the mark. You can probably sum it up as, “Anything that sounds too good, weird, or evil to be true, probably isn’t.” Of course, most of us want to be sure that something really is a hoax, so it pays to check out Hoax Busters, VMyths, or, just to be certain. These sites track all of the current myths and hoaxes out there, so you can see the basis for that hoax that arrived in your e-mail this afternoon. The point is that hoaxes aren’t real and you shouldn’t believe them, even a little.

When it comes to viruses, you can be sure that the Internet is plagued with them. Tomorrow I fully expect to see an article about the next major virus that will take down the Internet after emptying every bank in the world of funds. Yes, civilization will cease to exist with the next virus created by the cracker (a black hat hacker who uses his/her skills for ill, rather than good) who works only at midnight in a darkened room above a garage.

The fact is that viruses are real, but crackers often attack the least prepared Web surfers just as any other thief attacks the unsuspecting person on the street. There are enough people who are ill prepared to work on the Internet that crackers really don’t have to worry about creating a truly devastating virus that will invade every network on the planet. For one thing, it’s a waste of the cracker’s time-for another, must viruses have a relatively short active life before someone comes along with a fix that prevents them from spreading. Crackers know this, so they create viruses that work well enough for the time they expect the virus to be active, and then the cracker moves on to something else.

In general, a computer system can be invaded by a virus at any time-just as you can get a cold at any time. You tend to catch colds when your bodily defenses are down. The same holds true for your computer. When you let your computer defenses down, it has a better chance of getting a virus. However, even with the best defenses, there is a small chance you could still get a virus, but being prepared significantly reduces the risks. Here are five things you can do to ensure you’re prepared for a virus attack.

  1. Keep your virus protection updated.
  2. Install all of the required patches for your operating system and applications.
  3. Don’t open an e-mail from someone you don’t know, no matter how tempting the message might be (remember Pandora’s Box).
  4. Don’t go to sites you don’t trust.
  5. Keep your browser locked down so that it doesn’t automatically execute code when you visit a site. This means setting your browser to disable both JavaScript and Java support. Most browsers have an exception list you can create for sites you trust, so these sites will continue to work as they always have.

When you follow these five guidelines, you have a very good chance of avoiding viruses on your computer. The next time you see an e-mail message containing a hoax or trying to get you excited about the latest virus that will take down the Internet, consider the fact that these sorts of messages have been going around the Internet for quite a long time now and we have yet to see a major Internet down time. Let me know your thoughts about viruses and hoaxes at [email protected].