POSTSCRIPT / June 3, 1999 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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What to do if virus alert comes with your email?

THE papers say that our President and the First Lady are abroad, so we have this self-imposed ceasefire on the political front.

In the same spirit, will somebody please inform Director Panfilo Lacson that his Boss Erap is in Japan and proceeding to Korea? Maybe Ping could sit tight in the meantime and resist the urge to fire at Director General Roberto Lastimoso, who happens to be his superior at the Philippine National Police.

* * *

IF you see typos in this Postscript, it’s because my forefinger is painful from prolonged, yet avoidable, use of the telephone.

For the past several days, we have been dialing Technical Support of Infocom Technologies, which is our Internet Service Provider at the moment. The ordeal has resulted not in a connection but in almost an infection of our poor finger.

We were told by a gushing subscriber that Infocom is the fastest a local ISP could ever dream to be, because it is 51-percent owned by Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. through whose zealously-guarded lines all the other 200-plus ISPs (sorry for them!) must pass to get connections for their own subscribers.

It’s been days since we started going around in endless circles attempting the hitherto simple task of connecting to Infocom’s competent, and very patient, Tech Support team.

The culprit seems to be a machine that recites a taped response to subscribers to press this or that number to get this or that department. The past many days, we’ve been dutifully following taped instructions to press No. 3, but that number just takes us back to the same pleasant voice cheerfully telling us to press 3 — which we do again and which takes us back to the same voice.

In other words, that Infocom tape literally gives us the run-around instead of Technical Support. Maybe we could get to Infocom faster if we wrote them a letter by snail mail?

* * *

ASIDE from that swollen finger, we’re also having a slight migraine (aka headache to the poor).

We’ve been caught in a confusing exchange between Postscript readers who excitedly warn us of viruses waiting to be downloaded with email and those who dismiss the alerts as hoaxes.

We want to consult Infocom Tech Support, but a tape machine appears to have scored a coup d’etat over there.

Some readers advised against building a wall around us in panic after we relayed in Postscript some alerts sent by other readers on alleged viruses with subjects “Join the Crew” and “Penpals Greetings.”

The alerts warned Internet users not to open these messages because, according to the alerts, that would unleash a virulent virus that would destroy files in the hard drive and I don’t remember what else. Don’t believe that, other readers interposed, as those are virus hoaxes.

* * *

A POSTSCRIPT reader identifying himself as Martin A. Angala, IT Manager of Joaquin Cunanan & Co. (member-firm of the worldwide Pricewaterhouse Coopers organization) wrote about the virus alert:

“…the Join the Crew and Penpals ‘viruses’ do not exist, but are merely hoaxes spread in the Internet over the last three or four years. Currently, the most ‘popular’ of these supposed viruses going around is “It Takes Guts to Say Jesus.”

“Aside from non-existent viruses, other types of hoaxes and chain letters being spread in the Internet include:

n Money-making schemes such as the Microsoft email tracking system, of which I’ve seen three variants. (In the version Postscript has seen, somebody is supposed to chip in some US cents for every address added to the chain letter. Some people believe that! — fdp)

n “Sob” stories in which people are supposedly dying of some incurable ailments; the classic example of which is the Jessica Mydek chain letter in which the American Cancer Society would supposedly pledge three cents for each person who receives the chain letter. (The ACS has issued a denial on this way way back.)

n “Supposed freebies such as free Miller Beer, and, my personal favorite, the chain letter in which the kidneys of an individual were taken out to be sold; the poor victim woke up in the bath tub with his sides all sewn up!

“While the Internet has become one of the greatest things ever created, it has become, unfortunately, also a spawning ground for new viruses and for lies and hoaxes as well.”

* * *

NOW comes reader Richard C. Baldueza using a Pacific.net address who warns: “Someone is sending out a very desirable screen saver, the Budweiser Frogs ‘BUDDYLST.ZIP.’ If you download it, you will lose everything! Your hard drive will crash and someone from the Internet will get your screen name and password!

“Do not download this under any circumstances! It just went into circulation yesterday, as far as we know. Please distribute this message. This is a new, very malicious virus and not many people know about it. This information was announced yesterday morning from Microsoft.”

Postscript yawns: We’re holding our breath till San Miguel comes up with its own “SanMigLst.zip” to even up the score. Then we imagine that somebody from Budweiser would send out a virus alert! It isn’t funny anymore.

Maybe we should go down to the nearest cyberpub to wash down the virus.

* * *

AND here’s one from a Postscript reader identifying himself as Mon Cristi of Philippine Airlines:

“Real viruses are genuine threats not only to data/software stored in our PCs but also to the hardware itself (as displayed by the Chernobyl virus), not to mention the clean-up that will entail additional cost, time and effort.

“But there is an emerging new threat, the Internet Hoax. Those are email messages masquerading as Virus Alerts or chain letters circulating the world-wide web at an alarming rate.

These are examples of the email message content that Cristi says are all plain fiction (call it rumor, myth, urban legend, folklore):

n Dangerous viruses and trojans that would delete your hard disk drive upon opening the message.

n Kidney thieves who prey on business travelers.

n Promises of monetary reward for forwarding messages.

n Images appearing on one’s screen after forwarding messages.

* * *

CRISTI says further: “One’s PC cannot be infected by a virus just by opening an email message. The infection occurs when the infected attachment is opened.

“The only way to detect if the attachment is infected or not is by installing an anti-virus program that should be regularly updated to protect against the most current viruses. Updates can be downloaded for free from the specific anti-virus vendor websites.

“These hoaxes can cause panic and paranoia among computer users especially after the recent Melissa and CIH (aka Chernobyl) viruses which wreaked havoc on millions of computer users resulting in data loss, hardware damage, disruption of network operations, loss of productivity and unnecessary additional expenses.”

“These hoaxes can be verified from reliable websites that provide a complete list of Internet/ email hoaxes in circulation. If by chance, somebody forwards you an email which looks/sounds like a hoax, think twice before forwarding it to anyone else.

“If you have a connection to the Internet, you can browse the following sites which list hoaxes/chain letters:

http://ciac.llnl.gov/ciac/CIACHoaxes.html

http://ciac.llnl.gov/ciac/CIACChainLetters.html

http://www.sarc.com/avcenter/hoax.html

http://urbanlegends.miningco.com/library/blhoax.htm

(From Postscript: You can also consult your ISP, if it is not using a tape machine that takes you around in circles. The advice of an executive of another ISP: Play safe. Don’t just download any attachment with an .exe extension. That sounds like a tough counter-measure that we may not be able to follow all the time. If you suddenly stop hearing from us, that means we’ve been hit by an execrable virus!)

* * *

WE can’t exit without apologizing first to reader Awic H. Deles (aka “awicked”) of Davao City whom we named as Ms. Deles in the last Postscript. That “awicked” appellation tripped our tired mind into thinking he was a femme fatale. We hope our tossing him into a box with the girls doesn’t prove fatal.

Mr. Deles, btw, was the source of that alert on “Join the Crew” and “Penpal Greetings,” which other readers are now saying is a hoax.

Awicked notes in his latest email: “I’ve also noticed that you have an Internet-based email like Yahoo (which), although pretty much convenient to access anywhere, is quite a pain in the pocket because you have to always access (your ISP) to get your messages and reply to them.

“Would you like to have your Yahoo emails just downloaded to your office’s email program for offline viewing and replying? If you haven’t heard or tried it yet, I suggest you download a shareware called CWebmail at http://www.cwebmail.com.

“The efficient little application (less than 1mb) retrieves your new emails from your Yahoo Inbox as soon as you connect to the Internet. You just have to set up your email program first, which takes less than five minutes). Cwebmail (sits on your task tray while dormant) works best with Hotmail accounts but has recently added Yahoo mails.”

* * *

POSTSCRIPT: We sent yesterday to another batch of readers that touching story of a boy who lost his sister and was about to lose his mother. For their guidance, we will publish their names in a future issue. There were a few copies sent out which bounced back because of faulty addresses. Please inform us if you failed to get your copy. It’s really amazing that until now we keep receiving requests for copies.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 3, 1999)

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