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ISSUE 508: The high-tech office- July 20 1999


Readers respond on viruses and pesky e-mail hoaxes

A number of readers responded to my recent column on computer viruses and e-mail hoaxes with their own experiences and thoughts on the issue. Here is some of what they had to say.

"I am amazed at how many people (not in my company, thank goodness) use antivirus programs that are old. One person of my acquaintance is using an anti-virus program that is about four years old.

"When I suggested upgrading I was told in no uncertain terms that it worked just fine and I should mind my own @#$% and ! business. I sent that person an e-mail with the Melissa virus (well, I thought about it anyway)," said reader Brian Hubbard.

On the same topic, Brent Morgan commented: "I would like to add, and many people don't know and appreciate, that there is a big difference between a virus scanner detecting and cleaning.

"On two occasions I have un-knowingly received viruses from the Internet. I use PC-cillin, and do update new patterns regularly, but each time it could only detect and not clean them.

"While being able to de-tect them was somewhat interesting, it didn't help me to get rid of them and I had to reformat the hard drive both times."

Reformatting a hard drive is traumatic -- and may have been avoidable in Mr. Morgan's case. Virus detection programs pick up so-called Trojan Horses as well as viruses.

A Trojan Horse is a program, often with some useful features that can also damage your computer. Such programs aren't infected, and so there are no infections to remove. Instead, the dangerous file should be deleted.

As well, if one anti-virus program doesn't work to your satisfaction, try another -- most are available for download on a trial basis, and it may take trying out several to root out all infections.

And of course, as both writers suggested, it is vitally important to keep your anti-virus software and its definitions up to date.

(Mac users take note: The popular free Disinfectant software has not been updated since July 1997, and is of no use whatsoever in coping with Office macro viruses, now the most common form of infections, which can spread between both PCs and Macs.)

Responding to a column on e-mail hoaxes, reader Alan Vigoda added:

"I receive an average of one of these sorts of things a week. It's sad. People who really should know better seem to feel obliged to clutter up everybody's mailbox with this nonsense.

"A while ago, someone forwarded me a wonderful spoof on virus warnings. I cleaned it up and added some stuff. Thought you might get a giggle out of it.

"I now send it to anyone who forwards one of those 'BEWARE...TERRIBLE VIRUS' messages to me. I call it The Ultimate Virus Warning:


"If you receive an e-mail entitled 'Badtimes,' delete it immediately. Do not open it. Apparently this is a very nasty virus. IBM, Microsoft, the FBI and Canada Post announced the existence of this virus in a joint press conference just today. There is currently no software to detect it.

"It will not only erase everything on your hard drive, but it will also delete anything on disks within 20 feet of your computer.

"It will drink all your beer.

"It will leave dirty socks on the coffee table when you are expecting company.

"It will replace your shampoo with Nair and your Nair with Ro-gaine, all while dating your current boy/girlfriend behind your back and billing their hotel rendezvous to your Visa card.

"It will rewrite your backup files, changing all your active verbs to passive tense and incorporating undetectable misspellings which grossly change the interpretations of key sentences.

"If the 'Badtimes' message is opened in a Windows 95 environment, it will leave the toilet seat up and leave your hair dryer plugged in dangerously close to a full bathtub.

"It will not only remove the forbidden tags from your mattresses and pillows, but it will also refill your skim milk with whole milk.

"It is insidious and subtle. It is dangerous and terrifying to behold.

"It is also a rather interesting shade of mauve.

"These are just a few signs of infection."

Meanwhile, not only are Microsoft Windows and Office users the targets of the majority of computer viruses, the company is also the victim of a new e-mail hoax.

Two different e-mail messages are making their rounds, claiming to include Y2K fixes for Microsoft products. One reads:

"Dear registered Microsoft customer, we have compiled a program to test and fix the issues related to the Year 2000 change.

"Attached is a LANCHECK file to execute on your Windows 95/98 operating system.

"Please send any questions or comments to the Microsoft Y2K team at

"Sincerely, Tom Chandler, SVP, Y2K Taskforce, Microsoft Corp."

While the Web site is real, the rest is bogus. The attached program, which easily could have been a virus, appears to be benign.

Microsoft notes that it does not send program patches via e-mail--any such messages are faked, and any attached programs should be deleted.


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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan