From the Kenosha News on 2-20-05

Learn to Recognize Virus Hoaxes

      At least once each month, someone sends me a virus warning via e-mail.  It usually goes something like this: 

      "ATTENTION !!  There is a computer virus that is being sent across the Internet. If you receive an e-mail message with the subject line "Good Times" DO NOT read the message. DELETE it immediately.  If you receive this mail or file, do not download it. It has a virus that rewrites your hard drive, obliterating anything on it. Please be careful and forward this mail to anyone you care about!!!!!!"

      The subject "Good Times" might contain anything, including "Happy Holidays."  Before you forward such a message on to anyone, please know that these are nearly always hoaxes.  A hoax is nearly as annoying as the virus itself.  Rather than using technology to spread from computer to computer, it uses social engineering.  There is no actual virus, yet the message spreads about as fast as a virus, sent along by well meaning people who don't want their friends to get infected.

      Before you send any such message to anyone, you can actually find out whether this virus threat is real or if it's a hoax.  To do that, point your web browser at www.symantec.com and click on the Security Response button near the top.  Scroll to the bottom of the next screen and click on the link to Virus Encyclopedia.  In the search box, type in something unique from the message.  In this case, you'd type in the topic of the e-mail Good Times.  Then click the Search button.  You'll get a list of potentially useful links, the first of which clearly states that Good Times is a hoax.

      Understanding some of the concepts behind e-mail viruses can help you know when such a warning might be real and eliminate unreasonable fear of such notices.  First, a bon fide warning from a credible source would never implore you to forward it to everyone you know.

      Most e-mail viruses travel through attachments and so will not infect you if you don't open attachments.  (I'll give you more information next week on attachments and why you may or may not want to open them.)  However, as virus authors get more creative, they find ways to get the virus through without any intervention on your part.  This happened to me a few years back.  I had a Roadrunner e-mail account at that time which used Outlook Express to access it.  All I did was scroll down to the next message which opened it, and it sent virus infected messages to several people that I know.  Not good.

      One strong caution is that many viruses are designed to specifically exploit vulnerabilities in Outlook and Outlook Express.  If you can avoid using them, do so.  If you must use an Outlook product, make sure you know how to configure it so that attachments do not open or execute automatically, which is what happened to me.

      Finally, make sure you have an up-to-date anti-virus program on your computer and use an e-mail service that scans incoming messages for viruses.

By Carol Sabbar from the Kenosha News on 2-20-05