If you use Facebook you are probably very used to sort of hoax virus alerts. I am still not sure what the point of them is. Here is the one I saw today:
Please forward this to all e-mails. VIRUS COMING ! Hi All, I checked with Norton Anti-Virus, and they are gearing up for this virus! I checked Snopes, and it is for real. Get this E-mail message sent around to your contacts ASAP. PLEASE FORWARD THIS WARNING AMONG FRIENDS, FAMILY AND CONTACTS! You should be alert during the next few days. Do not open any message with an attachment entitled POSTCARD FROM HALLMARK, regardless who sent it to you. It is a virus which opens A POSTCARD IMAGE, which ‘burns’ the whole hard disc C of your computer. This virus will be received from someone who has your e-mail address in his/her contact list. This is the reason why you need to send this e-mail to all your contacts. It is better to receive this message 25 times than to receive the virus and open it. If you receive a mail called’ POSTCARD,’ even though sent to you by a friend, do not open it! Shut down your computer immediately. This is the worst virus announced by CNN. It has been classified by Microsoft as the most destructive virus ever. This virus was discovered by McAfee yesterday, and there is no repair yet for this kind of virus. This virus simply destroys the Zero Sector of the Hard Disc, where the vital information is kept.
It all sounds pretty terrifying. Also, it sounds like a complete joke. Why? Well, here are some things that suggest that it is a complete fake:
- Norton, Microsoft, McAfee all apparently know about this, but there is no alert from them, or any fix.
- It burns the whole hard drive! Why would a virus do this? As soon as the harddrive was burned it would be unable to spread. It would kill itself.
- “better to receive this message 25 times” all the scam mails say that. They try to justify why they are sent.
- “Shut down your computer immediately” – how will this help? Any advice about when we can turn the PC back on? No, I thought not!
- “most destructive virus ever” – hang-on, it has not even got started yet, otherwise people would be talking about it, so how can anyone be sure!
- “I checked Snopes” – well, so did I. And I found some more information.
A real virus, an old virus, but not much to worry about
A search of Snopes reveals plenty of information on this subject;
- http://www.snopes.com/computer/virus/virtualcard.asp – It turns out that this hoax has been doing the rounds since 2002.
- There are some viruses like this, but they have spread through instant messaging in the past.
- There is a real virus threat, as described here: http://www.hoax-slayer.com/postcard-virus-hoax.shtml – it is another hoax though. This form of the hoax was first reported on 26th February 2008 by Brett M. Christensen.
- There are also real Trojans / viruses being spread by virtual postcards, but these are generally spreading Malware, Spyware and more Trojans. They do not destroy your hard drive because they need your computer to carry out their future attacks. You become a zombie. Or they just steal your information.
- The Snopes article here: http://www.snopes.com/computer/virus/postcard.asp provides a list of known alternative subjects that spread the same hoax:
- You’ve received a Hallmark E-Card!
- You’ve received a greeting card from a school-mate!
- You’ve received a greeting ecard from a class mate!
- You’ve received a greeting ecard from a neighbour!
- You’ve received a greeting postcard from a partner!
- You’ve received a greeting postcard from a worshipper!
- You’ve received a postcard from a family member!
- You’ve received a postcard from a neighbour!
- You’ve received a postcard from a worshipper!
- You’ve received an ecard from a colleague!
- Class-mate sent you an ecard from vintagepostcards.com!
- Colleague sent you a greeting ecard from postcardsfrom.com!
- School mate sent you a greeting ecard from greetingcard.org!
- Family member sent you a postcard from dgreetings.com!
- Neighbour sent you a greeting ecard from NetFunCards.com!
- School-mate sent you an ecard from mypostcards.com!
- Worshipper sent you an ecard from greetingcard.org!
- Colleague sent you a postcard from egreetings.com!
- Neighbour sent you a greeting ecard from all-yours.net!
- School friend sent you an ecard from postcards.org!
- Holiday e-card
- Movie-quality e-card
- Love postcard
- Birthday e-card
- Thank you card
- Musical postcard
- Funny postcard
What Norton say
In 2009 Norton answered a concerned client who had received such an email. Their reply was:
Probably a hoax based on information below:
Urban Legends / About: ‘Postcard’ or ‘Postcard from Hallmark’ Virus Hoax
I always thought that UrbanLegends had their own website, but this seems to be a part of About.com. Anyway, their advice is:
“DO beware of phony “Hallmark” (or other) e-card notices — they may indeed carry a real virus.
DON’T be confused by the false descriptions in the messages quoted below.
Don’t click on links or attachments in e-card notices that arrive anonymously, or from senders whose names you don’t recognize.
Don’t click on attachments or links that seem suspicious in any other way.”
As you can see, this is a common hoax that is spread through social media (mostly Facebook these days) and email.
It seems that it serves to spread confusion and fear really. There is no real reason. This latest “alert” comes just weeks before Christmas, a time when people will be sending postcards by the virtual sack-load. No doubt many people will not get to read the messages from loved ones because they fear that it is “one of those viruses“.
How to be safe
No doubt you will receive a virtual Christmas card, postcard or some other pretty thing with music and flashing lights at some point in the next decade. When this happens just be careful. Check the URL (website address) that the link is pointing to and make sure it is a valid virtual card website.
If a short URL link is provided then you can use LongUrl.org to see what the end website is before opening the link.
Keep your operating system up to date – turn on Windows Automatic updates. Also install and keep updated some anti-virus software and a firewall. The most important thing is to keep everything up to date as most viruses are designed to exploit vulnerabilities.
Although many of the viruses are really old, many people are still running Windows XP with service pack 1 and no updates, no anti-virus and no firewall, and they wonder why they catch a bug!
Ask your friend!
By far the simplest way to be safe is to ask your friend (assuming that it says it is from a particular person) if they sent something.
I recently had an email from a friend’s hotmail account, a few days after another friend had their hotmail account hacked. They sent a link and it looked a bit suspicious, so I asked them if they had indeed sent it. It turned out that they had and there was nothing to worry about. Always good to check though.
Stay safe, but have a merry Christmas!
Photo by Argonne National Laboratory