Bug Watch: Each week vnunet.com asks a different expert from the antivirus world to give their views on recent virus and security issues, with advice, warnings and information on the latest threats. This week's expert is Peter Cooper, head of technical support at Sophos Anti-Virus.
Sophos's 24-hour technical support team has seen a notable increase in virus hoaxes lately. Not only are more hoaxes being reported but the new ones also seem to be becoming increasingly far fetched. Yet, no matter how bizarre and improbable they sound, people still fall for them.
Hoaxes are false virus warnings that describe extremely dangerous non-existent viruses. On average, Sophos receives the same number of calls about hoaxes asgenuine viruses. Hoaxes cause as much trouble for companies as real viruses because they clog up email servers and cause panic among users.
The most recent oddity that springs to mind is a new hoax which goes under the name 'Blueballs Are Underrated'. This hoax claims to be a warning about a virus that is "much worse than Melissa" and uses Norton Utilities to reformat the hard disk.
Other classic hoaxes still doing the rounds include the Budweiser frogs screensaver scare and 'It Takes Guts to Say Jesus'. Of course, all of these are complete nonsense.
Another development Sophos has seen recently is the amalgamation of hoaxes, whereby the subjects of two hoaxes are combined together. 'Win a Holiday' and'Help a Poor Dog', for example, reappeared as 'Help a Poor Dog: Win a Holiday'. Whatever next?!We know that most viruses are written by anti-social, spotty teenage boys without girlfriends, but who writes these hoaxes? It seems the only prerequisite is a wild imagination and an email account, rather than any programming ability.
While they are probably written without malicious intent, hoax writers need to appreciate the inconvenience they cause.
Sophos recommends establishing an anti-hoax policy, which involves assigning only one person the task of receiving, keeping track and notifying others of new virus alerts. Most antivirus companies also have official warnings on their websites.
We have also had a number of calls this week from users whose computers seemed to be playing funny tunes. The callers were concerned that the loud noise was a virus payload but, in fact, their PCs were overheating.
If your PC starts playing you a tune, and it's not your birthday, think about buying an extra cooling fan.
Conversely, Kakworm continues to silently spread to a large number of computers. This virus is stealthy and doesn't jump up and down telling you that it is there. Instead, it infects your computer and then forwards itself inside every email you send without you knowing.
The good news is that up-to-date antivirus software will detect it and Microsoft's patch will stop it in its stride.
Next edition: 11 August
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