I'm repeatedly amazed that I still get e-mail hoaxes, always sent earnestly by relatives who have been suckered in. Give-away hoaxes ("Bill Gates"), sympathy hoaxes ("Little Girl Dying of Leukemia"), warning hoaxes ("Stay Out of the Mall on Halloween!"), chain letters ("Hawaiian Good Luck Totem"), urban myth e-mails ("Flesh Eating Bananas") -- I'm sure you've gotten your share.
I'm repeatedly amazed that I still get e-mail hoaxes, always sent earnestly by relatives who have been suckered in. Give-away hoaxes ("Bill Gates"), sympathy hoaxes ("Little Girl Dying of Leukemia"), warning hoaxes ("Stay Out of the Mall on Halloween!"), chain letters ("Hawaiian Good Luck Totem"), urban myth e-mails ("Flesh Eating Bananas") -- I'm sure you've gotten your share.(Note: This column appeared in today's issue of the Personal Tech Pipeline newsletter.)
An e-mail hoax is a social engineering virus. A "regular" virus uses software code to distribute itself as widely as possible. An e-mail hoax uses YOU to do the same thing.
As awareness about e-mail hoaxes grows, their sophistication has also grown. In the beginning, e-mail hoaxes were outlandish fabrications, such as the "Bill Gates Hoax" in which you were asked to believe Microsoft's chairman was going to send you $1,000. That sort of thing doesn't work anymore, so most hoaxes contain a grain of truth or link to real web sites. Others are neither true nor untrue, but simple entreaties to some kind of action ("Boycott Major Gas Companies").
The point is not to deceive, inform or cause action, but to spread the e-mail as far and wide as possible. The people who write these things want to make their illicit mark on the world, just like virus writers and graffiti artists.
I received yet another e-mail hoax yesterday, and thought: There has to be some way to educate the public. Millions have been educated about hoax e-mails -- you almost never see technical people, for example, passing these around. The victims tend to be less computer savvy.
So how do you reach these people?
Then it hit me: E-mail chain letters! Why not write an "e-mail hoax to end all e-mail hoaxes"?
So here it is: I've written the hoax e-mail chain letter below (in the style of an e-mail chain letter -- many of the lines were copied verbatim from existing letters) as my effort to educate the public about e-mail chain letters and hoaxes. If you'd like to contribute to my effort, copy everything between the dotted lines and e-mail it to everyone you know. PASS IT ON!!! : )
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Subject: E-mail Alert
Please be aware. And pass it on if you think this will help someone. This was passed on to me by a friend.
This is an URGENT warning for all internet users -- there is a dangerous e-mail virus propagating across the internet.
If anyone receives an e-mail hoax, chain letter or urban myth e-mail, please delete it WITHOUT FORWARDING IT!! If you do forward it, the people who get it might themselves forward it, going on and on and WASTING EVERYBODY'S TIME!!
How do you spot this malicious social engineering virus? It's EASY!
* If you get an e-mail and you don't PERSONALLY know who wrote it; and
* The e-mail wants you to forward it to everyone you know; and
* The e-mail has lots of words in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS; and
* The e-mail has multiple exclamation marks!!!; and
* Says "this is not a hoax"; and
* Claims the e-mail is URGENT; then...
It's an e-mail hoax or chain letter. DELETE IT!!! DON'T FORWARD IT!!!
If you're still not sure, check out one of these web sites:
Computer Virus Myths http://www.vmyths.com
Don't Spread That Hoax! http://www.nonprofit.net/hoax
Common Internet And E-mail Hoaxes http://www.3oddballz.com/hoaxes
About.com: Urban Legends and Folklore http://urbanlegends.about.com
Pass this along to EVERYONE in your address book so that this may be stopped!!
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