Monday, June 18, 2001

Week of 06/18/2001

Virus Alerts and the Dreaded "VH" Virus
- by David Matthews 2

"The march of science and technology does not imply growing intellectual complexity in the lives of most people. It often means the opposite." - Thomas Sowell

My friends, I have to warn you about this devastating virus that has infested millions of computer users all across the Internet.

This is a very insidious virus, which is spread by web browsers, newsgroups, and most notably by e-mail. It has been with us for several years, and no matter how advanced your virus-protection software is, it will not be stopped!

That’s right, folks. All of the software in the world just will not stop this virus! You can talk to the folks at McAfee and Norton and they will not only tell you that there is no software that can stop this virus, but they will sometimes be completely oblivious to its very existence!

I’m talking about the Dreaded "VH" Virus.

This virus operates under numerous names and under multiple headings. Users who have succumbed to this virus have had to spend countless hours of wasted time and productivity re-installing software and suffering from the unending embarrassment that is often the result.

Quite often, this virus is transmitted from your friends, family members, and even remote acquaintances. Once infested with this virus, it is then transmitted to that user’s friends, family members, work associates, and even remote acquaintances.

And here’s the kicker: unlike any other virus, the Dreaded VH Virus infests the USER, not the computer. Once infested, they automatically pass on the virus to others, consciously, almost on reflex. Quite often they say that they are spreading this virus to others for purely benevolent reasons. They’ll even sometimes say that they’re only doing a public service.

What is this Dreaded "VH" Virus? Well, it’s called "Virus Hysteria."

Let’s get brutally honest here… we netizens have become so attached to these little techo-devices of silicon, plastic, and wires that we have become hypersensitive to anything that even remotely threatens it. Like a hypochondriac, we feel compelled to check our systems, and even the merest hint of a suspected program will compel us to delete that program, even if that program is vital to our computer use.

Here’s a good example: On June 2nd, Ray Owens, the creator of a daily joke site, decided to send out his own little "Virus Alert" to his modest mailing list of 340,000 people. He warned about this dangerous virus called "AOL.EXE" that is on millions of computers, and that if users delete this virus, 30 megabytes of their hard drive will be restored, their "IQ" will be increased, and they will learn how to spell and to use proper grammar.

Many people realized that this was a joke and they had a good laugh at it. Others, though, were infested by the Dreaded "VH" Virus, and began to spread this so-called "alert" to their friends and acquaintances. Some even began to delete AOL.EXE from their systems, not realizing that they were deleting the main program for America Online. Imagine the AOL users who tried to go online once they deleted their online service!

Now intelligence does play a roll in the spreading of the Dreaded "VH" Virus. As much as I would like to believe that we netizens are all very smart and knowledgeable about the machines we are using, experience tells me that there are some real cyber-idiots out there who don’t know the difference between a hard drive and a hard lemonade.

Before some of you get all huffy and start cranking out some hate e-mail, ask yourself if you would really take a "virus alert" seriously from a website called JOKEADAY.COM? Some people obviously did, because the webmaster was deluged with hate mail from users who didn’t even try to connect the dots. This hysteria was so wide-spread that it was talked about on news websites around the world.

Indeed, as it is getting easier for more people to get computers and to go online, there really has not been too much of an incentive for people to know how to use these wonderful devices. Operating systems from Apple and Microsoft have been constantly designed to be more and more "user friendly", which quite often translates into being more and more "idiot friendly".

Once upon a time a computer user would be embarrassed to admit they were "technically-challenged". Now it has become a presumption, especially those who use one of the online service providers like AOL, MSN, or Prodigy. Why bother trying to figure out how to set up a newsgroup, or configure your e-mail system, when your OSP can do all that for you?

Of course, some really mischievous people try to play off that gullibility of those technically-challenged users. Why else would script-kiddies be even moderately successful passing off their very real viruses and Trojan horse programs disguised as phony pictures of Anna Kornakova or Jennifer Lopez in the nude?

For those of you who haven’t fallen victim to this lame bait-and-switch game, let’s cut to the chase, shall we? There are NO nude pictures of Jennifer Lopez or Anna Kornakova! There are also NO nude pictures of Jennifer Aniston, Britney Spears, or Christina Agulera. If there were, they’d be in the newsgroups faster than the press release from the wire services! You certainly wouldn’t be first hearing about it in an e-mail from your boss on the company’s network, nor from your 89-year old Aunt Louise. So it’s a pretty safe bet that those kinds of letters are fakes, and should be promptly deleted.

As much as I’d love to say that the cyber-idiots get what they deserve when they start succumbing to phony virus alerts and opening up viruses under the pretense of seeing some pop culture diva in the buff, quite often these kinds of people are also the first ones to start bitching and moaning to the politicians for some kind of remedy. Hey, here’s a little news flash for those techno "Rain Men" out there: you’ll be lucky if your elected officials know as much about computers as you do! Talk about your blind leading the blind!

And let’s think about that for a minute… what good would the GOVERNMENT do in this case with the so-called "AOL.EXE" virus? They would tell you what I’d tell you.. hey, it came from a stupid JOKE SITE! Pour yourself a cup of coffee and wake the hell up!

Look, it’s one thing to be prepared for viruses, and it’s great to see so many netizens make the effort to keep their software up to date. However, it is very easy to succumb to the paranoia and hysteria if you don’t use the one processor that is already hard-wired into your head, namely your brain. Rather than start forwarding so-called "virus alerts" like some techo-lemming, start wondering if these alerts are for real. Anti-virus websites will no doubt have plenty of information about each new legitimate virus out there. And if that doesn’t work, there are websites dedicated to virus hoaxes as well.

Virus hoaxes and viruses operate largely on the gullibility of some users. Be aware of the viruses, certainly, but also be wary of the alerts.

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