ISSUE 506: The high-tech office- July
Take e-mail warnings
with a grain of salt
and a hint of caution
Most of us learned
in childhood that just because we read something, it wasn't necessarily
true. After never getting rich or encountering disaster as the result
of a chain letter, most of us learned to be a little skeptical of what
But in the newer medium of e-mail, many of us seem to
turn off our skepticism. If we read it in a credible-sounding e-mail
message, it must be true. Several of them have been sent my way by
concerned, credible readers.
For example, one message that is currently making the
rounds, claiming to originate from international telecom company GTO,
warns of an electronic AIDS virus:
"There is a virus out now being sent to people via
e-mail... it is called the AIDS virus. It will destroy your memory,
sound card and speakers and it will infect your mouse or pointing
device, as well as your keyboards (possibly motherboards) making what
you type not able to register on the screen. It self-terminates only
after it eats 5MB of hard drive space & will delete all programs.
"It will come via e-mail called 'Open: Very cool!'
Delete it immediately!"
The message urges readers to "Please pass this on to
everyone you know!"
The only problem is -- it's a hoax.
Viruses are being circulated via attachments to e-mail
messages, but none can destroy your computer's memory or infect your
mouse. And while attachments to messages may contain viruses, opening
an e-mail message itself will not damage your computer.
This is only one of a number of e-mail chain letters
warning of fictitious viruses. Others claim to originate with IBM
and even the FBI -- as if either organization (or GTO, for
that matter) would use chain letters to communicate with the public.
These messages take advantage of the public concern with the increasing
spread of computer viruses via e-mail.
The latest (at least as of this writing) is the
Worm.ExploreZip virus. This one is for real. It most often arrives as
an e-mail message, apparently from someone you know, reading:
"Hi Alan [or whatever your name is], I have received
your e-mail and I shall send you a reply ASAP. Till then take a look at
the attached zipped docs. Bye!"
Enclosed is a file attachment that is not a bunch of
documents compressed as a Zip file. It's a program that destroys files
across your hard drive.
Keep your paranoia-meter turned on. Were you expecting
a collection of documents from this person? Is she/
he replying to a message of yours?
PC users who have file extensions turned on will
notice that the so-called zipped document doesn't end with the letters
"zip" as it should, but rather with the letters "exe" for a so-called
executable file, a program that will run by itself.
For your own safety, don't open files attached to
e-mail messages unless you're expecting them. And even then, check them
with an up-to-date virus scanner first. (Some polls suggest only about
30 per cent of business computers have antivirus software -- and even
that provides, at best, a false sense of security if it isn't regularly
As BIV publisher Peter Ladner relayed
in a recent column, I too was forwarded an e-mail message, apparently
from one Kate Turner, assistant to Richard Stepp QC,
from the law firm Berger, Stepp and Gorman, Barristers at Law,
216 Bay Street, Toronto, ON, MlL 3C6.
It warned of "an alarming trend in the Government
of Canada attempting to quietly push through legislation that will
affect your use of the Internet... Bill 602P will permit the federal
government to charge a five-cent surcharge on every e-mail delivered,
by billing Internet Service Providers at source."
Lawyer Stepp, it claimed, is working to oppose Bill
602P, along with a proposal by Liberal back-bencher Tony
Schnell (NB) who "has suggested a "20 to 40 dollar per month
surcharge on all Internet service" above and beyond the government's
proposed e-mail charges."
The message ended by asking readers, "Don't sit by and
watch your freedoms erode away! Send this e-mail to all Canadians on
your list and tell your friends and relatives to write to their MP and
say 'No!' to Bill 602P."
All well and good. Except there is no MP Tony Schell
from New Brunswick and no Commons Bill 602P (Parliament doesn't number
bills that way). And despite the realistic-sounding name and address,
there's no Bay Street law-firm of Berger, Stepp and Gorman, with an
assistant named Kate Turner.
This hoax is now making the rounds in the U.S., with
the particulars changed to U.S.-sounding ones, but it makes me proud to
think that we saw it first in Canada.
Whether it's a relatively benign hoax such as the Bill
602P message or a message containing a destructive attachment like the
Worm.ExploreZip virus, we should all use the same common sense that we
learned as children -- just because something's written down doesn't
mean it's true, even if it's passed on to you in a message from someone
And especially if it comes to you as an e-mail