Most people occasionally receive emails telling them of some brand new virus that "not many people know about" and advising them to "send this email to everyone you know" to get the word out about the new virus.

Another type of email may describe some situation where a company is paying people 5¢ each time they forward the particular email, or telling about some terminally ill child whose medical bill trust fund will receive a certain amount of money each time the email is forwarded.

Yet another type of email warns of some legislative bill in Congress or being reviewed by a government agency that will tax email use or something similar.

The emails described above are usually false, and can be classified as either hoaxes or "urban legends." These types of emails add unnecessary traffic to an already crowded Internet, and waste the time of those who receive them. If you receive a questionable email and don't know if it's true or not, the links below may be able to give you the answer....

Virus Hoaxes List from the Symantec AntiVirus Research Center
Email Hoax Information from TruthOrFiction.Com

If you discover that the email that you received is a hoax, don't forward it! Doing so only extends the life of these emails. A better choice would be to reply to the person who sent it to you and advise them that their email was a hoax. You can even point them to the links above so they can see for themselves. Perhaps the next time they receive such an email, they will get the facts before forwarding it!





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It is imperative that you update your Anti-Virus Program's Virus Definition Files often! An excellent solution is to use an anti-virus program such as Norton Anti-Virus, with its "Live Update" feature which can be configured to automatically check for and install updates whenever you connect to the Internet.




The Internet can be a useful, entertaining and productive tool, but it can also be dangerous, annoying and destructive. Here are some tips that are a must for avoiding trouble and frustration on the Internet.

Note: These tips are primarily directed at Windows users, as most of the dangers mentioned here are developed for use against computers running the Windows operating system. Macintosh, Linux, and other operating systems comprise a lower percentage of computers, so people writing viruses and other forms of attack can get more "bang for their buck" by targeting Windows systems. This is not to say, however, that users of computers running other operating systems should not be cautious and follow these same general guidelines.

The impact from these can range from the mildly annoying to downright destructive.

  • Viruses infect computers and can spend their time emailing themselves to other people, or they can contain destructive payloads that can delete files or erase system BIOS or hard drives, in effect turning your computer into an expensive boat anchor.
  • Worms are like viruses, but tend to use means other than email for spreading. They "worm" their way across networks or, as the recent Blaster worm demonstrated, across the entire Internet.
  • Trojans, like the historical Trojan Horse, arrive on your computer appearing to be one thing, but once inside your system they turn into agents of destruction. The "useful" utility or "cute" game that you download from a website may contain a Trojan, with the innocent looking packaging serving only to ensnare you.
  • Backdoors can be inserted into your computer by way of any of the delivery methods listed above. The purpose of a backdoor is to allow someone else access to your system without your knowledge. This access can be used for such things as copying or erasing your files, reviewing your family budget, logging keystrokes in order to obtain passwords, credit card numbers, etc., storing porn files while remaining anonymous, or setting your computer up as a spam email relay point.

The only way to protect yourself and your computer from these things is by having a good anti-virus program on your computer and keeping its virus definition files up to date. If you have an anti-virus program but its virus definition file has not been updated within the past two weeks at most, you may as well not even have it, as new viruses are continually being released onto the Internet. An anti-virus program with an out-dated definition file will not detect them.

We use and recommend Symantec's Norton Anti-Virus program. Its Live Update function can be configured to automatically check for updated virus definition files each time you go on the Internet, then download and install them as needed. This frees you from the necessity of remembering to keep your anti-virus program updated. Check out Symantec's website for information about this product. Another good anti-virus program is McAfee VirusScan.

In addition to writing viruses, worms, etc., hackers will also attempt to directly access your system. This is often done because of vulnerabilities in your operating system (eg. Windows) that hackers have discovered and developed means to exploit. There are two primary means of protection against this sort of hacker activity:

  • Security Patches are "fixes" for your operating system or other programs that are developed by the manufacturer to close the "holes", or vulnerabilities in their products. Windows users should check Microsoft's Windows Update site often for Security Patches that apply to their particular version of Windows or other Microsoft programs. Note that the Windows Update site only works if you use Internet Explorer as a web browser. If you use a different web browser (ie. Netscape, Opera, etc.) you should go to Microsoft's Download site instead. Additional Microsoft security information can be found on Microsoft's Security site.
  • Firewalls are hardware devices or software programs that protect your computer from outside access or intrusions. Software firewalls are the recommended protection for individual computers, since hardware firewalls are expensive and found primarily in commercial network environments. Hackers attempt to probe computers via the Internet to determine information about those computers, such as what kind of operating system is being used, what is running on those computers, or what vulnerabilities may be present on a targeted system. A firewall program will detect and block these attempts by hackers (or their automated search programs) to access your computer, thus depriving them of the means or information needed to attack your system. Two excellent firewall programs are BlackICE PC Protection and Zone Alarm. Click on these links for information on BlackICE PC Protection or Zone Alarm. Quality firewall software is also available from Symantec and McAfee.

As with anti-virus programs, an effective firewall is an indispensable line of defense against those who would harm your computer.

Not to be confused with spam (junk email), scams are attempts by people to fraudulently obtain money or personal information from you. These attempts are usually initiated by emails which either request a response to the email or else direct you to a link in the email which takes you to a website run by the scammer.

One of the most well known scams is the Nigerian Letter Scam, where someone claiming to be a foreign government official or the executor of a foreign estate requests your help in moving a large sum of money out of their country, with the promise that you will receive a portion of the funds if you will provide "up front" money to cover taxes, fees, handling costs, etc. The promise is a lie, and if you participate in their scheme you will lose your money and never see anything of the promised funds.

Another common deception is an email claiming to be from a bank, credit card company, or business that requests that you follow a link in the email to a website in order to change, verify or update your account information. The resulting website looks completely legitimate, containing the supposed company's website design structure, color scheme, logos, etc., but is in fact nothing more than a copy of the legitimate website. There may even be links on the fake site ("About Us", "Home Page", etc.) that go to portions of the legitimate site, all to throw you off and make the fake site look like a part of the legitimate site. The form fields on this fake website in which you are requested to enter your account information, however, actually are programmed to pass that information on to a computer owned by the scammer.

Information requested may include account numbers, PIN numbers, mother's maiden name, social security number, etc., and will allow the scammer to make charges to your credit cards, steal your identity to open additional accounts in your name, or withdraw money from your bank accounts. If you fall for this scam, you are setting yourself up for years of problems. Better to take a few minutes to look before you leap!

Common sense and a bit of internet savvy is good to have when faced with such a scam as this. Here are some points to consider:

  • Check the URL (address) of the suspect website on your browser's address or location bar. It should list the correct domain name of the company in question, but beware of look-alikes, slight misspellings, etc. You should be suspicious, also, if the address is listed simply as an IP address, such as, which doesn't provide any clue as to the ownership of the site.
  • Note also that the wording of the link in the email doesn't always reflect the actual address that is linked to. The underlying HTML code in the email may point you somewhere else entirely. For example, this link: does not go where it says it does. This is why you should look at your browser's address bar, or the source code for the email, and not rely on what the email says for the link.
  • A last point to consider is the type of information being requested in the email or at the linked-to website. Banks, credit card companies and other businesses will not normally ask for personal information via email or on their websites. There may be instances where you would enter such information on a website as part of some action initiated by you, such as activating a new account or applying for a loan, but you should be suspicious if a company contacts you and requests such information. If you have doubts or suspicions concerning the legitimacy of the request, pick up the phone and call the business (using a phone number from some source other than the suspect email).

For more information regarding Internet scams, or to file a complaint if you are defrauded via the Internet, check out the FBI's Internet Fraud Complaint Center at

Spam (junk email) has become a real nuisance for Internet email users. Whereas spam only comprised 7% of all emails sent in 2001, today it accounts for more than 50% of all emails sent, and the problem is only going to get worse. There are several ways by which you can reduce spam coming into your mailbox.

  • Anti-Spam programs and services are available which may provide some relief from spam. Symantec's Norton Internet Security suite contains a utility called Spam Alert (as well as Anti-Virus and Personal Firewall in one package), McAfee offers a program called SpamKiller and Anti Spam Software has a program called Spam Agent Home, to name a few. Most anti-spam services are for commercial enterprise use. One subscription service that is offered for home users is SpamCop's filtered email account, which scans your email and removes spam before you receive it.
  • Spam-avoidance practices that you can do yourself can help reduce spam.

    • Avoid using common names or words for your email address. Spammers will often guess at email addresses, such as using the domain and then addressing spam to popular surnames in the pattern of,,, etc., working their way through the alphabet. Or, they will use popular first names and last initials, such as,,, etc. Other guesses might involve popular nicknames. Avoiding these when choosing your email address may help in this area.
    • NEVER respond to the "To avoid future emails, click here" links on spam emails. These are often used solely to verify the validity of an email address. Responding tells the spammer that you received the email and can invite more, not less, spams in the future.
    • Configure your email program to not automatically display incoming emails when they are clicked on in your in box. This will allow you to delete spams based upon Subject or From lines without having to display the email first. Many spams are comprised of HTML code (like what is used on webpages) that send requests for graphics from a server when the email is displayed. The request to the server can contain identifying information that links the request to your email address and lets the spammer know that the email was received. This can result in an increase in future spams.
    • Lastly, be careful of where your email address ends up on the Internet. Besides the obvious practice of unscrupulous businesses selling their customers' email addresses to spammers, there are other more subtle means by which spammers acquire email addresses. Email lists, newsgroup postings, and websites where your email address may be listed are sources for addresses. Some of these may be beyond your control, but you may be able to avoid some of the unnecessary uses of your email address. Some people posting to newsgroups, for example, may list their email address as "robert(at)montana(dot)net"...easy enough for a person to decipher, but something that would be overlooked by a spammer's automated email address gathering program that was designed to look for a [username]@[domain].[top-level-domain] pattern.


  • Don't be part of the spam problem! Whereas spammers have traditionally relied on using open relay vulnerable email servers to transmit their emails, the increase in the number of high-speed Internet connections for computers, many of them in homes, has provided a new option for spammers. By infecting an unprotected computer with a virus-like program, spammers are able to set up that computer as a "proxy" system from which they can send out their emails. The FTC has an online article entitled "Who's Spamming Who? Could it be You?" which provides more information on this problem and how to avoid becoming an unwitting tool of spammers.

Every time you connect to the Internet, you enter a world populated by people whose sole purpose in life is to steal from you, harm your computer or make your life miserable by any means possible while hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet. You are your own last line of defense, and the steps that you choose to take or ignore can make a world of difference in your safety and security on the Internet. Common sense, preparation and prudence can go a long way towards helping you to survive on today's Internet.

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