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We're writing these answers to the typical end-user. Other computer types will probably find things that they'd describe differently. If you are one of those people, please bear with us and see if you agree that the general idea is correct.

Over the past couple of years there has been an increasing number of e-mail VIRUS WARNINGS. Most are hoaxes.

The typical warning starts with an opening that seems like an inter-office message or a message from one collegue to another. There is usually a huge list of addresses to whom the message has been sent. The subject line mentions virus. Typically there will have a statement asking the receipients to forward the message to everyone they know.

Here's a typical message we received:
-----Sample Message-----
From: Edgewood Administrator
Sent: Monday, March 30, 1998 12:04 PM

To all Associates:
If you receive an email titled "WIN A HOLIDAY" DO NOT open it. It will erase everything on your hard drive. Forward this letter out to as many people as you can. This is a new, very malicious virus and not many people know about it. This information was announced yesterday morning from Microsoft. Please share it with everyone that might access the internet.

Once again, pass this along to EVERYONE in your address book so that this may be stopped. Also, do not open or even look at any mail that says "RETURNED OR UNABLE TO DELIVER." This virus will attach itself to your computer components and render them useless. Immediately delete any mail items that say this. AOL has said that this is a very dangerous virus and that there is NO remedy for it at this time. Please practice cautionary measures and forward this to all your on-line friends ASAP.

A virus that's not a virus

We say that these are hoaxes but in some sense they are real . When you analyze it, the message itself is the "virus".

A computer "virus" is not, by definition, bad. Instead, a virus is simply a program that replicates itself automatically when loaded by a computer. It may be totally harmless.

Computer viruses have a bad reputation because some are malicious and are intended to do harm. They will delete files or alter a computer's settings or just crash the entire system.

These virus warning e-mail letters can are not malicious. But the do automatically replicate themselves by causing you, the reader, to send copies of them to all your friends who in turn send the message to all of their friends. That's the virus behavior .

The objective of the e-mail virus creator is to see just how many people he can fool and just how far his creation will spread. The prize is to find his message documented as a hoax by the "virus police" at Norton or at McAfee.


Although most of these e-mail messages are hoaxes, the internet HAS made it possible to send viruses via e-mail. For a long time that was considered impossible.

Here are some possible scenarios:

The MS-WORD virus:
It is now well documented that the latest "macro" facility in Microsoft WORD allows one to very easily create a lethal virus and hide it in a plain old word processing document. When that document is opened the macro executes and does its damage.

The WEB threat:
HTML is the language of the internet. In general it's a "read only" entity that can cause no harm. Web sites should be very safe.

The latest versions of HTML, however, have been empowered with JAVA and JAVASCRIPT applets. Creative programmers can do some very "interesting" things with those environments and you can hardly stop them.

The HTML e-mail threat:
The latest crop of e-mail clients all have the ability to receive and display HTML based messages. Those messages have the ability to open a web site or web document in your browser, without your permission. The threat is that they could launch a JAVA based program that could do mischief.

The AUTO LAUNCH threat:
The old safety advice was "never open a suspicious package". A problem is emerging now where applications launch automatically. It is possible to browse to a web site, click on a Microsoft ACCESS database and suddenly find the database files on your computer and ACCESS running to process the tables. Surprize!

A whole pile of other auto launch scenarios are out there. Essentially any file extension that you "register" with Windows has the potential of being automatically launched without your intervention.

In the past few months there have been reports of a troublesome "virus" in adult newsgroups. They have aparrently been placed by well meaning people who want to sabatoge the distasteful material.

This particular threat sets up a recursive loop by executing a link to a site that spawns a new copy of your browser then links back to itself. What you experience is the sight of your task bar filling up with broswers faster than you can kill them. If you don't get ahead of the game you'll soon overwhelm your system and it will crash.

These are just a few scenarios. Those folks who enjoy the challenge of finding the chinks in the armor and breaking in will continue to do their thing.

The only true safety for you the computer user is to exercise general caution. Make backups regularly. Stay out of the "dark alley's" of the internet. Be observant.
NORTON AntiVirus
McAFEE AntiVirus

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Write to MMCC Technical Support at:
MMCC, Inc.
600 W. Midland
Bay City, MI 48708
(989) 686-8860
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