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Virus Warning Emails

You're probably here because I sent you the link in reply to a virus warning email you have sent me. I truly appreciate your concern however, there are a few things I need to say. They're for all of our benefit.

Before I go into the full rant below, that virus warning email is a bloody chain letter, nothing more, nothing less. I do not send chain letters and I don't want to receive them either. Just because it's from a 'reliable source at [insert your favourite big company name here]' or because it will 'wipe out my C: drive' etc does not qualify it.

You are sitting in front of one of the cheapest and most effective research tools available. Before you think 'okay, I won't send it to Bill but I'll send it to everyone else' - educate yourself. Go to Google and type in 'virus hoaxes'. If you prefer, click this link and I'll type it in for you. At the time of writing it found about 133,000 pages relating to virus hoaxes.

Hoaxes are not harmless, they can be destructive. You can now choose to read on and delete the warning email you've got or send it anyway. Just please, whatever you do, do not send it to me.

A Bit More Detail

Is this the first time you've seen this email you are about to forward? For me it may be the tenth. What happens is person (a) forwards it to all 100 people in their address book. All of those 100 people forward it onto the 100 in their address books and so on. After four forwards it has already been received by 100 million people. That's 100 million copies of the same email. It is not hard to imagine a billion or more copies, maybe hundreds of billions.

I have even received the same warning from person (a) who is a friend of (b) and (c). I also happen to be friends with (a), (b) and (c). So when (a) gets it, he sends it to everyone in his address book. (b) gets it and also sends it to everyone in his address book and I'll leave it you the reader to decide what (c) did with it and what I did with all three copies I got.

Unwittingly, you may have contributed to more harm (in terms of bandwidth, storage etc) around the world than any virus would in itself cause.

Someone has to pay for all of that traffic.

We now have many millions of copies of an email referring to a virus which is almost certainly a hoax. Most hoaxes while not entirely harmless are fairly benign. Others can be destructive. The recent JDBMGR.EXE hoax resulted in many people deleting legitimate operating system files from their computers. Millions of people forwarded this email to their family, friends and colleagues. I don't know if anyone ever counted the damage which was actually caused but it must have been in the tens of thousands of computers.

Once again I fully appreciate your concern for my computers health, but consider this...

1 - I have paid for, and continue to pay for updates to my antivirus software.

2 - This software is from companies who have many dozens, maybe hundreds of people who work in the leading edge of virus detection, prevention and cure.

3 - The continuing existance of these companies may rely on them getting it right, quickly and first time.

4 - I am an IT professional, I actively monitor industry news, I know how viruses are written, how they work, what they do and how they do it. I also know how to protect myself from them.

5 - I also use good practice to further minimise any risk should a virus manage to pass through the anti virus defences.

If you are not familiar with names such as Messagelabs, Brightmail, McAfee and Symantec then you should not be in the virus alerting business.

As I have already said, many of the warnings are hoaxes. Do you believe that I or anyone should act on an email from an unknown source who can click the 'forward' button but not take a couple of minutes to check what they're sending on any of the numerous reference pages available?

Just a couple of good sites about hoaxes Snopes urban legends reference pages and BreakTheChain about all sorts of email etiquette and chain letters.

The Real Damage & Etiquette
Usually you will forward the email to everyone in your address book by adding them all to the 'To:' part of your message. This means you've just told me all of your colleagues email addresses, and them mine. This obviously can be rude but the real damage can be much worse than that.

Many email clients automatically add any addresses to their address books (mine included). So all of your friends addresses are now in my address book, and potentially all in each others.

As many viruses automatically send themselves to everyone in the infected users address book, I'm now going to be fortunate enough to receive a copy if any one them gets a virus, or any one of their friends, or any one of their friends.

Remember the 100 million hoaxes we mentioned above, well maybe it's not that high but it's fair to say that if anyone of maybe 10 thousand people were really infected, the virus would forward itself on and on through all of the other address books and probably at some point arrive in my email (or be blocked by the anti virus).

If you really must forward or send an email to everyone in your address book then use the research tool I mentioned above, or consult the documentation for the software you use to find out how to send an email like this using the 'Bcc:' field rather than the 'To:' field.

Normal practice is to send the email to yourself and Bcc it to everyone else, thus ensuring the email addresses don't get exposed.

If You Still Want To Send It
I have been on the net since the early 90's. I have received numerous (probably 200+) virus warning emails but have never yet encountered one that was not a hoax. What do you think I'll do with your mail? What do you think the other 100 addressees of your mail will do with it, forward it to another 100 et al, until one of them is also forwarding it to me again, and again ad nauseum.

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