Viruses, Hoaxes, Spyware, Scams and Urban Legends


A virus is software that, when downloaded to your computer and executed, can do anything to your computer that you can do. The "anything" can range from practically nothing to things quite nasty such as deleting all your data. A virus also tries to send itself along to other people so as to infect them. Most viruses are spread these days as attachments to email To protect yourself from viruses you should have a virus scanner program running on your computer. A virus scanner program comes in two parts; the engine which runs the program and the virus definitions which hold all the information about new viruses. You must update your virus definition regularly! If you don't you will think you are protected when you may not be. If the program has a separate email protection option you must enable that also.

The and executed in the first sentence means that even if you receive a virus in an email attachment you still won't be infected unless you click on the attachment (and thus run the program). Don't click on it "just to see what will happen". What will happen is that your computer will become infected and probably everyone on your email address list will receive the virus from you. If you have a "preview pane" enabled and you click on it, that also executes any virus. It used to be said don't open an attachment from anyone you don't know and that's still good advice. But because of the way viruses spread these days you are far more likely to get a virus from someone you do know (because you are on their email address list).

The two most popular anti virus programs are made by Symantec (Norton) and McAfee. If you are a Comcast internet subscriber you can get the Norton Security Suite for free (well included in your subscription). This is a very good deal you should take advantage of.

Update virus definitions for Norton and McAfee.Test your anti virus software. Note that this only tests if you have anti-virus software installed and operating. It DOES NOT test to see if your virus definitions are up-to-date.

General information about viruses from

If you think you have a virus

Microsoft Safety Scanner

Malware removal instructions

Norton Power Eraser An aggressive removal tool. Use carefully.

Recuva Free data recovery program for Windows


Hoaxes are email messages warning you of an impending virus or a dire personal or computer threat.

Some tip offs to a hoax message are:

If the message tells you to delete a file on your computer, don't do it until you've checked that it isn't a vital operating system file.

Don't forward the message to everyone you know until you are sure it is not a hoax. You will look foolish and generate a lot of unnecessary email traffic.

Some places to check:

Symantec Anti Virus Research Center
F-Secure Hoax Warnings


or Adware is software that gets installed on your computer when you download "free" programs. When you quickly clicked past the Privacy Policy you explicitly granted the program the right to load software on your machine. This software downloads ads in the background (slowing your internet surfing speed) and also report on and sells information about you and what sites you visit. What's more it stays on your computer even if you remove the offending "free" program.

Removing the SpyWare may make some of the FreeWare inoperable. In that case you will have to decide if you can live with the privacy intrusion or go on the internet to find ways around the spyware. A search I did on Google for "disable spyware" turned up over 8,000 results.

To remove existing SpyWare, download and run Ad-Aware from Lavasoft. Then run it monthly after every new software installation.

Another, even more aggressive spyware killer is SpyBot. It's free but it is so useful you really should send in a donation. It also has a useful Immunize feature.

Both of these programs have an update feature which you should use to make sure you are removing all the new spyware.


Scams Unmasked from Quatloo You won't believe some of the get-rich-quick schemes

Why Pyramid Schemes don't work.

Urban Legends

Urban Legends from AFU (alt.folklore.urban) and About/Mining Company dispel those emailed stories from people who don't let truth get in the way of a good story. Another site, The Urban Legends Reference Pages looks for the source of some of the more popular myths; the $250 cake/cookie recipe, the missionary about to be hanged who needs your prayers, the company that will donate money or books for every 25 emails you forward.

The Darwin Awards Mostly not true but still very funny stories about human stupidity.

These stories, emails and faxes fall under the general category of Urban Legends. They are passed on by well-meaning people and seem to take on a life of their own. Subjects vary but some of the more popular and enduring are:
Craig is dying of cancer and wants receive the most business cards.
A wealthy family took their grandmother to Mexico on vacation and she died.
A women asked a famous restaurant for the recipe for Red Velvet Cake.
Walt Disney is frozen.
Good Times Virus warning.
I changed Donald Trump's tire and he paid off my mortgage.
Flushed pet alligators live in sewers.
A man went to a bar, passed out and woke up missing a kidney.

One good definition of an Urban Legend is:

(Peter van der Linden and Terry Chan alt.folklore.urban FAQ:)

The legends are often very funny and make good reading. Just don't get taken in by them.

MVRHS Main Library Page

updated 10/18/2012