In March, 2004 I wrote and posted this article to my website. I was reminded of it this evening when I opened an e-mail from someone warning me of the latest and greatest virus. Some of the wording had not even changed in six years! My article is a bit dated, but worth the read. –Mitch Garvis July 10, 2010
Every so often I receive an e-mail warning me of the newest and most destructive virus ever. Along with these warnings (which come in waves) I usually get a number of requests from friends, clients, or associates asking my opinions of these attacks, and what they should do about it.
Some of the more typical excerpts from these warnings will be 'Microsoft has announced the most destructive virus ever…' and '…as reported on CNN.' The one that I like is 'This attack caused widespread panic in New York City yesterday…' and my personal favorite: 'If you are like me I would rather get this e-mail twenty-five times than fall pray to the attack once.'
Here's the thing: Microsoft does not announce virii. They certainly do not classify or rate them on a scale of best to worst ever. It is not what they do. CNN does a fairly poor job of reporting computer threats, and normally do so after the fact. Furthermore had there been widespread pandemonium in New York City you would have heard about it long ago.
I'll say it again for the cheap seats: NINETY-NINE PERCENT OF THE E-MAIL WARNINGS YOU GET ARE BOGUS.
Now here is the interesting part: WHY. These warnings are attacks to the Internet, and by forwarding it you become an unwitting accomplice. How it works is simple: The Internet works just like a road system. When there is relatively little traffic then everything goes nice and smooth… and fast. If you have driven along a deserted highway you were probably going faster than the posted speed limit. You turn up the volume and enjoy the open road. The more cars join you on the road, the slower you go. The Internet works the same way: every byte of data that you send takes up bandwidth. The more bytes (or packets) transmitted the slower things go.
It is difficult to understand how a simple message I send can clog up the Internet, right? Here's a math lesson that should put the issue into perspective. I have close to four hundred contacts in my address book. However let's say for the sake of the problem that the average person has fifty. Let's also assume that two in five contacts will forward the message. That means only twenty people are forwarding the message to their entire contact list. Let's look at what happens if each person sends it six levels down: (1) I send it to 20. (2) They send it to 20 each, that is 400. (3) Those 400 send it to 20 each that is 8,000. (4) Those eight thousand send it to 20 each that is 160,000. (5) Those 160,000 send it to 20 each that is 3,200,000. That makes 3,368,420 e-mails clogging the Internet. Don't you love the little coup de gras at the end 'I would rather receive this e-mail 25 times…'How do you stop this attack on the infrastructure? Simply delete the message.Now let me be clear about this. There are many different virii, worms, and trojan horses that you need to worry about. I have received over one hundred e-mails this week containing the Sobig worm, but by not opening them no harm was done. You DO have to be careful. However with the very rare exception none of the virii out there are going to do any physical damage to your computer. They are not going to blow up your monitor, and they are not going to infect your children with Smallpox.
If you are truly concerned about a warning, the premiere authoritative resource on the Internet is the Symantec Anti-Virus Research Center (www.sarc.com). If you think you are at risk, or believe a warning is too real to be wrong, then check there. Not only will you find information about every single virus, worm, trojan, and other threat known to computers, but in almost every case it will GIVE you the tools to clean it.