- "I know it used to be a hoax, but I was wondering if it still was."
- "I thought it might be bad, but I really wanted to see what it would do."
- "It was sent by xyz corp's system admin, so I figured it was genuine."
- "I didn't send that mail, so I couldn't be infected."
Unfortunately, in these instances, words can hurt you - and often everyone in your address book as well. If you or someone you know has ever uttered one of these phrases, consider the following.
Forwarding warnings just in case
Hoaxes can be damaging and there are real costs involved. Ask anyone affected by the Sulfnbk.exe hoax, or a system administrator who has to waste valuable time debunking the erroneous message.
Before you send something just in case, take a moment to check its authenticity. David Emery, the About.com guide to Urban Legends, provides an exhaustive collection of common (and not so common) myths and urban legends. Bookmark the Urban Legends site and consult it the next time you receive an email warning of missing children, infectious blue envelopes, or any other such email.
Virus warnings should also be checked for legitimacy. Bookmark the Hoax Encyclopedia and consult it before forwarding that dire admonition. Better yet, don't forward any such warnings even in the off chance you discover it is valid. Instead, send a link to the site confirming the information. That way, there's little chance of your propagating a hoax.
It came from someone I know
Just because an email attachment arrives from someone you know, it doesn't mean it is safe to open. In fact, any email attachment received unexpectedly should be regarded as suspicious. Unless you are absolutely certain it is not a file type capable of harboring a virus, delete it. If you must open it, save the attachment to the drive first and scan it with updated antivirus software before opening it.
I wanted to see what it does
Curiosity can be our own worst enemy. Remember Pandora and keep the lid on the box. There are many Virus Encyclopedias on the Web that will provide a step-by-step description of what the code does - without your ever becoming a victim.
It said it was from xyz corporation
There are hoaxes floating around that purport to be from a variety of organizations. Anyone can type a name into an email. Unless it came directly from that person - and not forwarded by a friend - don't believe it. Consult the Hoax Encyclopedia and Urban Legends site instead.
I didn't send that email, so I can't be infected
It's important to remember that if your system becomes infected with a virus, it won't ask permission to send itself to others. On the other hand, email worms often spoof the sender's name, and many alerts are erroneously sent to the spoofed sender as a result. Still, if you are getting emails from friends and relatives telling you a virus is being sent from your machine, it's worth checking your system. Update your virus protection and do a thorough system scan. If you don't have virus protection, check out the Top Antivirus section of this site for recommendations. Can't afford virus protection? Use one of these free antivirus scanners instead. Or use a free online scanner to scan the file.
The warning may actually be the virus.
If you receive an email from someone you know telling you there's a virus on your system and the email warning they sent has an attachment that is a supposed fix to the problem, don't believe it. Delete the email instead.