Chain letters have been in existence since the dawn of written communications.  In fact there is probably a cave painting undiscovered somewhere bearing runes engraved, telling the reader they must painstakingly craft similar runes on ten different walls and send a freshly cured hide to the cave specified at the top of the list, otherwise evil spirits will drive their buffalo away and make the rains fail and it will all be their fault…

Of course some of them in the old days, of actually writing letters, were fun – like one that went round theUKin the nineties asking you to send a pair of knickers to the person on top of the list, the idea being that if the chain carried on you ended up with a bunch of cool new undies.

I never actually did that one though even after receiving it several times, and knowing my friends had had to go to the effort of actually photocopying something (that being the height of communications technology at the time) – because the whole premise of chain letters has always made me feel pretty uncomfortable.  You didn’t ask to be sent it, and now you are going to be made to feel bad if you don’t take actions it specifies.  Often those actions involved sending a small amount of money to the person whose name had reached the top of the list, and of course the promise was that within weeks you should receive an abundance of cheques from those downstream… often accompanied by quite specific and unpleasant warnings about the ‘bad luck’ that might befall those people who ‘break the chain’.

Nowadays the message content is generally less frightening, but the ease of passing the message on, in the days of email, is the scary bit.  Never mind typing it out again with your name in the chain and using six sheets of carbon paper (yes, I am showing my age!), now all you need is the ‘fwd’ button and an address book to insert.  Too easy, and the consequences of this you will know all too well.

Today we have social media, for all your pictures of kittens doing cute things or your fun run sponsorship form or that really funny joke… It might interest some of your friends, sure, but possibly not all of them equally, and if you share it via Facebook instead then they can choose to read it or get involved with it or not, instead of filling up their inboxes.  Or perhaps if it’s the kind of thing that really really needs to get emailed, it might be that you decide to send it *just* to the folks who are really going to get it, rather than everyone you know..?

But what about if it’s going to help them, protect them… some of the most disturbing content going round in email chain letters is about threatened computer viruses.  The content of these letters urges you to pass it on to everyone you know, immediately – for their own good.  And what could be a nobler intent than protecting your friends from something so unpleasant?

Here’s one that’s actually been doing the rounds for SIX YEARS, but recently resurged for obvious reasons:

PLEASE CIRCULATE THIS NOTICE TO YOUR FRIENDS, FAMILY, CONTACTS!

In the coming days, you should be aware.....Do not open any message with an attachment called: Invitation FACEBOOK, regardless of who sent it. It is a virus that opens an OlympIc torch that burns the whole hard disc C of your computer.

This virus will be received from someone you had in your address book. That's why you should send this message to all your contacts. It is better to receive this email 25 times than to receive the virus and open it.

If you receive an email called: Invitation FACEBOOK, though sent by a friend, do not open it and delete it immediately. It is the worst virus announced by CNN.

A new virus has been discovered recently that has been classified by Microsoft as the most destructive virus ever. It is a Trojan Horse that asks you to install an adobe flash plug-in. Once you install it, it's all over. 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 of their function is saved.

SNOPES SAYS THIS IS TRUE

 

Now this one has quite a lot of impressive-sounding buzzwords in it, enough to confuse and frighten a lot of people into doing what it says.  Trojans can behave in that way, for example, ie prompting you install bogus plug-ins, in fact that is the definition of a Trojan, that it tricks you into doing something to help it past your defences, by appearing to be something it is not. Malware can also write to your zero sector (master book record), and that can be a real challenge to get rid of without doing some pretty drastic stuff.  But rather than taking their word for it, see what Snopes – an excellent source of validation for such things – really does have to say about it:  it’s complete rubbish.

Now, the latest copy of this that I received had been forwarded at least eight times before it reached me.  I haven’t had it 25 times yet, thank goodness, but because of the topicality it wouldn’t surprise me… and in this email chain of eight, I counted (before getting bored and giving up only a few messages down) well over two hundred email addresses in the To and CC fields, all of which are probably still residing somewhere in my recycle bin.  Because to actually delete anything permanently takes more effort than you might imagine.

Now, I am pretty careful to run a clean system, but who’s to say I or one of those hundreds of strangers my email address has now been shared with do not have some malware running in fact, the kind that harvests email addresses to sell to spammers, phishers or worse?  So, in other words, by propagating this message you could in fact be helping the very people it purports to be working against – scammers and crooks – and specifically risking the very people you most want to protect!

What should you do then, if you receive a message like this?  Well, you can simply delete it – NOTHING BAD WILL HAPPEN – but, if you want to satisfy yourself that it’s a hoax the easiest way is just to copy and paste a few lines from it straight into Google – you don’t need any more technical expertise than that to investigate it, and if you get a page full of results with the word ‘HOAX’ in the subject line then you have your answer.

Then you might like to let the person who sent it to you know what you found out – what they choose to do with that information is up to them, but you could respectfully suggest that they DON’T send another email to everyone they’ve ever met explaining that it’s actually not true… all this does is send out more waves of endless emails with too many addresses showing

Stay safe, on and offline, this summer!

Published in Costa Blanca News, Friday August 9th 2012

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