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Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Facts about "Computer E-mail Viruses"

by: Erick Gerlitz

Does this sound familiar: "Don't read or open any e-mail titled Good Times! It will destroy your computer!" Many of you have received e-mails warning you of reading a specific e-mail sent to you going by a certain name (e.g.- "Good Times," etc.). These warnings tell you your computer will face certain doom if you open these e-mails and read them. THESE WARNINGS ARE A HOAX.

The TRUTH of the matter is, *YOU CAN NOT GET A VIRUS OR ANY SYSTEM DAMAGING SOFTWARE BY READING AN E-MAIL*. E-mails (that is, the ACTUAL message) can not contain viruses. This is why:

>> A virus can not exist in an e-mail text message. They also can NOT exist in USENET (newsgroup) postings or simply "float around" the internet. Viruses must be attached to and infect an executable program (.exe, .com). Viruses and other system-destroying bugs can ONLY exist in EXECUTABLE FILES, and since e-mail is not a system file in that sense, viruses can not exist there. While reading e-mail, you are not executing any malicious code to activate! Thus, no virus can exist. HOWEVER, if you (or your computer) download a FILE attached to an e-mail or USENET posting (i.e.-binary) and RUN it, there IS a chance that file could contain a virus, since a runable file could contain a virus. It is also very important that you DO NOT, under any circumstances, allow your e-mail program to automatically execute an attached file. You risk infection by doing so!

>> Viruses are generally (almost always) OS (operating system)-specific. Meaning, viruses created for a DOS application can do no damage on a Macintosh, and vice-versa. If you take a careful look at these e-mail hoaxs, you'll notice that very few are specific about which system it "infects." There has been one exception to the OS-specific rule, which is called the Microsoft Word Macro Virus, which infects documents instead of the program. This virus can affect both Macintosh and PC computers because of the way the application was written (it contains the same source code on several OS's). In the future, we might see viruses cross OS-boundries because Java, ActiveX programming languages break the typical "rules" of how a virus is OS-specific.

>> If you carefully read these hoax letters, you can pick out strange, non-sensical technical jargon, used to confuse and scare those who aren't computer experts. This jargon usually talks about systems of a computer that don't exist or things that aren't possible.

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