Hoax e-mails and PC security

Computer mouse in chains

This week I received something in my e-mail inbox that I’ve not had in a while: a hoax e-mail ‘kindly’ forwarded to me by a friend or family member trying to help me and ensure that my hard drive wouldn’t be destroyed by the latest terrible virus.

Olympic Torch hoax

The hoax e-mail sent was the Olympic Torch hoax, had the subject “Please forward this warning to all of your contacts” and said

Importance: High

Be alert during the next few days: Don't open any message with an attached file called "Invitation", regardless of who sent it. It's a virus that opens an Olympic Torch that "burns" the whole hard disk of your computer.

This virus will come from someone who has your e-mail address; that's why you should send this e-mail to all your contacts. It's better to receive this message 25 times than to receive the virus.

DON'T open it , permanently delete it and re-start your computer immediately... This is the worst virus announced by CNN, it's been classified by Microsoft as the most destructive virus ever. The virus was discovered by McAfee yesterday, and there's no repair yet for this particular virus. It simply destroys the Zero Sector of the Hard Disk, where vital information is kept

How to spot a virus hoax

Virus hoaxes usually arrive in the form of an e-mail with instructions to pass this message on to all your contacts and they are often constructed using the same structure as the message above:

  • Opening paragraph about this dreadful new virus, what it does and why it’s the worst virus ever created.
  • More detailed information about how you will likely receive it (probably via e-mail) and why you should send this warning on to all your friends.
  • Information about what to do about it if you receive it (usually delete it and reboot your PC).
  • And a few references to some well-known IT companies to add weight to what they’ve said. Frequently mentioned are: AOL, CNN, McAfee, Microsoft and Norton/Symantec.

Anti-virus (AV) software companies do not send out warning e-mails (unless you’ve specifically signed up for a newsletter from them) asking you to pass on these details to your friends. AV software companies rely on two things to help you keep your PC clean of infection:

  1. that you ensure your anti-virus software is kept up to date, usually by recommending that you leave the software to automatically and regularly check for updates online — they regularly release updates that target the latest viruses, trojans and malware
  2. recommending that you practice a safe-internet routine whenever you are downloading files and/or e-mail attachments

If you receive a similar message that is warning you of the latest virus threat then please first check the Symantec Hoax site to see if your e-mail message is listed. The purposes of these e-mails is to create a sense of unnecessary panic and for you to spam your own friends!

Anti-virus software

If you don’t already have anti-virus software installed on your PC then I can thoroughly recommend AVG Anti-Virus Free 7.5.

I’ve been using it on my laptop for a few months now, and on my games partition on my main PC. One reason I like it is because it doesn’t hog system resources like other AV products do (such as Norton AntiVirus). The TweakGuides Tweaking Companion for Windows XP has an excellent walkthrough on how to optimize AVG for your system.

Another great thing about AVG, if you have a slow internet connection, is that the update downloads are generally very small. Yesterday’s update was 500 KB, today’s only 8 KB. So users still relying on a dial-up connection would be fine.

Anti-Spyware, Anti-Trojan

It’s often not enough to simply rely on your anti-virus software these days. I regularly scan my systems with AdAware SE (anti-spyware) and A-Squared Free (anti-trojan).

A regular scan once a week should be fine. Unlike anti-virus software and firewalls, you may install and run more than one package. I also allow the ZoneAlarm spyware scanner to run regularly, and Spybot Search & Destroy. The TweakGuides Tweaking Companion (mentioned above) also has a good section on using this software, I recommend that you download it and give it a read.

Firewalls

I also recommend that you make sure that you have a firewall running. A software firewall is an application that acts a bit like a bouncer for your network connection. It monitors all the in and out traffic making sure that only authorized traffic gets through.

A lot of people recommend using the built-in Windows XP firewall. I’m a little more cautious and as a long-time user of ZoneAlarm I’ve bought the ZoneAlarm Pro firewall which also adds extra e-mail and spyware monitoring capabilities. There is also a free version, which I’ve used very successfully.

Your surfing habits

One of the most important things for helping ensure that your PC does not become infected with malware — and I can’t stress this enough — is YOU! A few tips:

  • Get into the habit of regularly scanning your PC for malware (spyware, trojans, viruses). Put it into your diary, if you must (I do!).
  • Do not immediately open e-mail from recipients you do not know, especially if they have attachments. If you have an anti-spam filter then use it. The built-in one for Microsoft Outlook 2003 is excellent.
  • Get into the habit of manually scanning any download (downloads from websites, instant messenger contacts and especially from e-mails.
  • If you are in any doubt whatsoever about the security status of the file then delete it immediately and empty your Recycle Bin. If it was a genuine file from a genuine friend then they can always send it again if it was important.
  • And remember, please don’t spam your own friends! If you get a suspect e-mail check the Symantec Hoax site or simply search Google for a few of the keywords contained in the e-mail (such as Olympic Torch virus).

I hope that helps a few readers. And my e-mail inbox!

Record of the week: Murder Inc.

Cover for Murder Inc. CD

Today’s random blast from the past from Gareth’s Magnificent Wall of Metal™ comes courtesy of Murder Inc., the short-lived 1990s supergroup comprising members of Killing Joke, Pigface and Ministry.

I first heard Murder Inc. on a cassette that was recorded for me by a friend, Gregor, while I was working at Claridge Mills, Selkirk after leaving St Andrews in 1993. I think that I wanted a copy of Exodus‘s first album and told him to put something cool on the B-side. Murder Inc. has been a firm favourite ever since.

There were two things that really attracted me to Murder Inc. First was undoubtedly that their singer, Chris Connelly is Scottish, and sounds Scottish. Second, Murder Inc. don’t sound like your typical rock or metal band.

Murder Inc. is not an industrial metal band, but their music does contain more than a few industrial elements. It sounds melodic but raw, acidic and quite unpredictable. I’ve always liked music that was a bit different, that challenged the norm, that didn’t stick to a verse-chorus-middle-eight arrangement, that pushed boundaries. That’s why I’m into bands like Voivod, Celtic Frost, and the truly bizarre masterpieces that emerge from the ‘troubled’ mind of former Faith No More singer Mike Patton.

One of my favourite tracks is “Mania” which has the sound of a dot-matrix printer running in the background throughout the song; something I played around with myself around the same time on a song demo with a friend, Max (who is now an excellent tattoo artist). Great minds think alike, and all that!

I picked up the album The Complete Murder Inc: Locate Subvert Terminate on Amazon marketplace a while back for around four quid. Well worth it. This two disc collection combines the original, self-titled album (CD 1) along with a second disc of remixes, singles and live recordings.

Geek adventures in Glasgow

Glasses

Yesterday I travelled through to Glasgow (by railway) to attend the Scottish Web Folk forum meeting at the University of Strathclyde.

The Scottish Web Folk group is an open forum for all the web managers and web developers from the 22 Scottish Higher Education Institutions. Yesterday’s meeting was attended by representatives from

(Apologies if I’ve missed anyone.)

Of course, before I got there I had to make sure that I wasn’t killed in transit.

Shortly after leaving Queen Street station I stepped out onto North Hanover Street, en route to the University of Strathclyde’s Collins Building on Richmond Street, only to be stopped suddenly in my path as a Strathclyde Transport bus came swinging around the corner.

I stepped quickly back onto the pavement and stood looking at the side of the bus, which had paused, unable to turn the corner completely because of a car on the opposite side of the road which had stopped for the traffic lights.

Right in front of me — blocking both the road and my line of view — was a lingerie advertisement for Matalan: five or six scantily-clad ladies, who would have caught their death (not to mention would have been arrested) if they had been wandering around Glasgow in person dressed that way.

Imagine if the bus had knocked me down, I thought. Imagine if that had been the last thing I’d seen as I shuffled off this mortal coil. Depending on one’s theology, in comparison heaven may have been a sorry disappointment! But thankfully for me it wouldn’t have been, and since I wasn’t mown down in my prime I’ll live to see another day (and presumably another similar advertisement on the side of another similar bus).

The first item on the agenda at the Scottish Web Folk meeting was an excellent presentation by someone from SAC about CSS which led to a minor debate as to whether the XHTML <br /> tag is a block-level or an inline element.

David, who was making the presentation, had copied a list of block-level elements from somewhere which had included the BR tag. A number of us questioned this and so I decided to settle the matter and sent a text to Any Question Answered (63336).

Ten minutes later I had a reply:

AQA: Within XHTML the <br /> tag is a block element. Block elements define a discrete block of text, whilst inline elements are used to style content.

Which is just so wrong on so many levels (‘block’ or otherwise!). I suspect yet another £1.00 refund winging its way to me shortly from AQA.

Here’s what the W3C — the internet body that sets standards, such as HTML, CSS, etc. — says about inline elements. This is from section 3 “XHTML Semantic Modules” within the document “Modularization of XHTML™“:

3.3. Inline modules

Inline modules defined elements and their attributes that, when used in a document, effect their contents but do not cause a break in the rendered output.

Within both block and inline modules there are three subcategories of module:

  1. Phrasal
  2. Presentational
  3. Structural

And paragraph 3.3.3 shows that <br /> is an inline XHTML element:

3.3.3. Inline Structural Module

This module defines inline level elements to help control the structure of their enclosed content. Elements included are:

  • bdo
  • br
  • del
  • ins
  • span

So, David owes me a new kidney (he’d offered me a pint, but I don’t drink because of my dodgy kidneys so I felt that that was the next best thing) and AQA owes me a quid!

A fine day all round, then.

(Incidentally, the early time of this posting (pre-05.00 am) is courtesy of a nocturnal “meet the neighbours” incident involving our two cats and another similar beast in the utility room.)