Return to sender
The Internet has proved to be an ideal medium for spreading both viruses and virus scares. Currently doing the rounds is the Penpal Greetings virus. Please note - this is an unalloyed hoax rather than a genuine warning about a real virus, so don't panic and don't pass the message on.
This hoax comes as an email message, usually headed Virus Alert. This warns of dire consequences for anyone attempting to read an email entitled Penpal Greetings. After explaining how the alleged virus will damage both your own and the world's computers, it urges you to pass the message on to all your friends.
The Penpals warning started showing up in the US in November 1996. By December, it was clear from newsgroup postings that it had made it into UK organisations, and that some were panicking. The Penpals warning itself can be compared to a virus, but one executing in 'wetware' - the fevered imaginations of over-anxious humans - rather than computers.
How can you tell this message is a hoax? Apart from the internal evidence in the text itself (the generally crazed tone), the easiest way is to do a little browsing. Try visiting IBM's anti-virus resource at www.av.ibm.com, or the US Government Computer Incident Advisory Capability at http://ciac.llnl.gov.
For background information, there are excellent less formal sites, such as www.kumite.com/myths, www.stiller.com and www.ot.com/~dmuth/virus.
The Internet newsgroups comp.virus and alt.comp.virus contain the latest reactions by both amateur and professional virus watchers to any scare - it is surprising how swiftly they usually come to a consensus.
Although the Internet is great for spreading hoaxes, there is also plenty of excellent information available to counteract them. It could be the slogan for a TV series, the HoaX-Files: The Truth Is Out There.
Mail to order
Oracle has unveiled plans to rent out chunks of its Interoffice groupware online mail system, targeting an untapped market of small and medium-sized businesses.
The service will be free for the first 90 days after which a usage-based pricing model will kick in. ISP Digex is already offering Oracle's Interoffice email, calendaring and scheduling tools. The move is in line with the company's need to create a feasible infrastructure for Network Computers.
A site worth seeing
Compuserve Interactive has launched the Picture Gallery. This is a royalty-free image library which is available to the online service's three million members. Users can browse low-resolution thumbnails and download 24-bit high-resolution pictures.
Online loans in an instant
Further proof that online banking is gaining ground was provided in November when US-based Beneficial National Bank announced it is to offer Compuserve members loans online.
It is possible for members to arrange unsecured personal loans for up to $10,000. They fill out an online application and an automated credit check is then carried out in two minutes.
Members are told if they have a good credit rating, and are then given the interest rate of the loan. Beneficial mails out the cheque the next day. The bank follows Canadian-based Bayshore Trust, which is also offering instant online loans.
Partners wanted - commitment essential
America Online is threatening to axe promiscuous content providers which don't make AOL their number-one online priority.
The company is trying to change its relationships with its partners in a bid to maintain unique content. Tenants on the service will have to choose between their own Internet projects and AOL.
AOL recently parted company with Wired magazine which, according to company sources, was more committed to its own Web site. MSN is also believed to be striking exclusive deals with providers, using unique content to seduce users into the subscription-based areas of its Web site.
America Online is also set to launch its AOL Computing Superstore. This is wired up to sell hardware, software, and accessories, including a line of computing products from Necx Direct, along with downloadable software programs from At Once Software.
Not so virtual harassment
Moves are afoot to nail online stalkers who use email to annoy, abuse, torment, harass, or embarrass other people.
Attempts were made to amend state law in Maryland, USA, after a university student was shot dead on campus and a trail of threats leading up to the murder were found in his email in-box.
Other legislators in state houses across the US are looking to codify harassment and threats on the burgeoning online world. Connecticut passed such a law in October with a similar bill in Illinois and New York State in the pipeline.
There have been at least two recent examples of electronic stalking coming to court in the US. Businesses need to remain aware of the danger of both workplace harassment and staff who use company email to commit what may soon become a crime.
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