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A warning regarding some particularly unpleasant and dangerous new computer virus which does not actually exist. Such warnings usually arrive in forwarded e-mails, which is no great surprise, given that the majority of virus hoaxes explicitly urge the recipient to re-forward the e-mail to as many other people as possible. In fact, this is one of the sure-fire signs of a hoax. Here are some others, with examples drawn from the "Win a Holiday" virus hoax which was initially prevalent in 1998:

A subject line which closely resembles a spam e-mail; for instance, ALL UPPER CASE, often combined with a LARGE NUMBER OF EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!
Example: "VIRUS WARNING !!!!!!"

A warning to avoid e-mails with particular titles. Nearly every virus hoax contains this directive (although it is worth being aware that some genuine virii may also be recognized in this way).
Example: "If you receive an email titled ‘WIN A HOLIDAY’ DO NOT open it."

Reference to a comment or warning issued by some well-known computer-related company. In practice, this is almost always Microsoft, which in itself can be one of the biggest clues, since Microsoft almost never comment in this way on virii or related issues.
Example: "This information was announced yesterday morning from Microsoft."

A certain naiveté in the description of the virus and its effects. This is difficult to qualify exactly, but superlatives are a good indicator, as are statements such as "brand new virus", "not widely known".
Example: "This is a new, very malicious virus and not many people know about it... This virus will attach itself to your computer components and render them useless!"

Finally, to restate the initial pointer; a virus hoax almost invariable contains the instruction to forward the e-mail to others.
Example: "Once again, pass this along to EVERYONE in your address book so that this may be stopped."

So there you have it... except there now appears to be a possible twist to the tale. The following is the body text of the "Upgrade Internet2 / Perrin.exe" virus hoax e-mail which was prevalent in December 2000, and which as you'll see conforms exactly to all of the hoax identifiers listed above.

PLEASE, SEND THIS INFORMATION TO EVERY PERSON IN YOUR ADDRESS BOOK.

IF YOU RECEIVE AN E-MAIL THAT READS "UPGRADE INTERNET2" DO NOT OPEN IT, AS IT CONTAINS AN EXECUTABLE NAMED "PERRIN.EXE." IT WILL ERASE ALL THE DATA IN YOUR HARD DRIVE AND IT WILL STAY IN MEMORY.

EVERY TIME THAT YOU UPLOAD ANY DATA, IT WILL BE AUTOMATICALLY ERASED AND YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO USE YOUR COMPUTER AGAIN.

THIS INFORMATION WAS PUBLISHED YESTERDAY IN THE CNN WEB SITE.

THIS IS A VERY DANGEROUS VIRUS. TO THIS DATE, THERE IS NO KNOWN ANTIVIRUS PROGRAM FOR THIS PARTICULAR VIRUS.

PLEASE FORWARD THIS INFORMATION TO YOUR FRIENDS, SO THAT THEY WILL BE ON THE ALERT.

ALSO CHECK THE LIST BELOW, SENT BY IBM, WITH THE NAMES OF SOME E-MAILS THAT, IF RECEIVED, SHOULD NOT BE OPENED AND MUST BE DELETED IMMEDIATELY, BECAUSE THEY CONTAIN ATTACHED VIRUSES. THIS WAY YOUR COMPUTER WILL BE SAFE.

This is followed by a list of 20 e-mail subjects to be on the lookout for. The list includes the now-familiar "Win a Holiday" hoax from way back in 1998 that is used to illustrate the above pointers, along with the names of many other well-established hoaxes. But also here, slipped in among them, are the names of a couple of genuinely malicious programs: the "I Love You" worm and the "Happy99" trojan. Is it too paranoid to suspect that this may be some kind of elegant attempt to make the genuine articles appear fake by association? I wonder.

Information culled from a variety of on-line resources and personal e-mails from well-meaning friends.

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