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Unpleasant Things and How to Avoid Them

Chain Letters Email Notifications Fake Warnings Get Rich E-mails Install on Demand Practical Jokes Slightly Different Addresses Take Me off Your Mailing List Virus-hoax e-mails Toolbars

Viruses and pornography on the internet are mentioned often, and there are well publicised ways of avoiding them. There are other unpleasantnesses, though, which we can’t deal with until we recognise them.

This page sets out a clear strategy for protecting your computer. It lists the best programs to have installed and tells you where to get them.

The Telephone "Warning"

Here's one that doesn't happen on the Internet, but it's certainly computer related. You answer the telephone and someone tells you that your computer is running slowly or that it's infected or somesuch. They'll say they're from some respectable-sounding organisation—usually with Microsoft in the name—and that their monitoring system has noticed your computer.

After much informed-sounding talk, you'll be told to go to a particular website where you'll supposedly find directions for fixing the problem.

Yeah, right! Best advice is to hang up half-way through the first sentence. The suggested website is dead dangerous!

Fake Warnings

deceptive message box pretending to be a genuine warning
Ever see a message box like this? It seems to be a genuine message from your browser. It isn't. It's advertising for “scareware”, a program purporting to be a spy remover but which may in fact itself be spyware. Installed, these things “find” lots of bad things and say they'll be removed if you pay for the program. The list of things found is fictitious.

Increasingly, spyware distributors are offering “anti-spyware” utilities which will indeed eliminate some spyware—but will replace it with their own!

Here's another one.
Lies, more lies and wicked lies.
Any of these “messages” can make you feel worried and anxious to find out more.

Some offer free scans. As often as not, they then present you with a list of false positives, but say that they can't remove them until you've paid for the product. Some even go so far as to name the best-known real anti-spyware programs as malware and offer to remove them. Don't pay. Don't click. Close your browser. Once installed, some of these nasties can be very hard to remove.   top

Slightly Different Addresses

Watch out for websites with an address almost the same as, say, that of your bank, or of a reputable information page, search engine or anti-virus company. Unscrupulous people use these so that a typing error can mean you get their nasty website instead of the one you were after. If you think something doesn't look right, obey your instincts and leave. 

Email Notifications

Microsoft does not send emails asking you to install anything. Banks don't send emergency letters that take you to a page where you're asked to enter account details. Letters that say your computer has been broadcasting spam or is infected with a virus are usually virus laden. If you feel unsure, you can always email and ask—but using the address you normally use, NOT the one in the fake email. 


There are numerous free toolbars on offer. Google the name of any toolbar you fancy before you consider downloading it. Several come with a very hard-to-clean payload.   top

Install on Demand

A dangerous setting in IE.Programs that you don’t want to have on your computer can be assisted by a setting in Internet Explorer—Install on Demand. The idea is that if you click on a link to a page in , eg, Japanese characters, you’ll automatically download the correct font. This is extraordinarily helpful—provided that you can understand Japanese. It’s also intended to download the appropriate player or plug-in when you click on something that your computer isn’t capable of displaying. However, you may not be willing to allow the Marvellous Monstrous Movie Machine to take up ISP time downloading itself, and you may not want to give it space on your hard disk. You might prefer just to forgo looking at or listening to the (probably inane) piece that someone has emailed to you. The point is, you should decide what gets downloaded, every single time. Make sure that that checkbox is cleared—then you won’t be downloading things you don’t want.   top

Virus-hoax e-mails

A new virus was discovered this morning. It has already brought New York’s financial district to a standstill and caused x million dollars’ worth of damage.

Delete the e-mail and, of course, forward it to absolutely nobody.

Of course there are new viruses discovered every day. They're discovered by the people who make anti-virus programs, and these programs are updated every day.

If you’re still uncomfortable, do this:

There are any number of these circulating, but they usually start in a similarly dramatic way, giving all sorts of frightening figures and often using the names of well-known anti-virus companies in fake quotes. They go on, usually, with instructions to
(a) delete something
(b) to forward the e-mail to everyone in your address book.
Well, that’s just how real viruses behave. They delete or change things, and they try very hard to propogate by sending themselves to everyone with whom you’re in contact, so these e-mails are in themselves a sort of low grade virus.
The things most often marked by them for deletion are either important files in your computer or genuine e-mails which you are directed to recognise from some wording in the subject line.   top

Chain Letters

These don’t set out to have you damage your computer, but they can be a very real annoyance. Like virus hoaxes, they ask you to forward them to everyone in your address book. Some ask as well that you send something—a postcard, perhaps—to a certain real person at a real address.

Others claim that a small sum of money will be donated to a worthy cause for every email forwarded. Often, the worthy cause is medical help for a terminally ill child. Just how the person making the donations is supposed to know how many copies of the email were forwarded isn’t explained.

Some, like the chain letters that used to circulate through ordinary mail, suggest that something bad will happen if you fail to send the email on.

There’s usually a collection of email addresses at the top of the letter. That’s poor for a start. The forwarder is sending you and all of the other recipients copies of each other’s addresses. That’s probably not something you want.

If the person who sent the chain letter to you is a friend with whom you regularly exchange emails, let them know they’ve been hood-winked. Otherwise, just delete the letter and forget it. 

Get Rich E-mails

From time to time you may receive e-mails that invite you to take part in money-making schemes. Usually you’ll delete them without looking, either because the sender is unknown or because the subject is obvious. A cunning means of obtaining other people’s money has nevertheless enjoyed success for several years. The subject may be a plea for assistance. The writer describes themselves as a citizen of a country that you recognise as being politically unstable. They say that they need safe-keeping for a huge amount of money—many millions, usually—and ask if you will send your bank account number so that they can temporarily deposit their fortune in your account. In return for your understanding and kindness they will give you a percentage of their money to keep. Thousands of people, apparently, have fallen for this one and had their bank accounts emptied overnight.   top 

Take me off your mailing list

You receive an e-mail advertising something. It’s usually quite a dull something, in which you have no interest. There’s a note on the e-mail that says,
“If you want to be taken off our mailing list, click here.”
DON’T click the link, and delete the e-mail immediately.
This e-mail is testing reams of e-mail addresses that have been generated more or less at random. When someone clicks as asked, they will not be taken off a mailing list; they will be transferred from the long list of possibilities to a much shorter, but growing, list of real e-mail addresses, which will then be passed on to unethical advertisers who may feel free to bombard them with unwanted material.



Questions or comments? I’d love to hear from you. My email address is here.

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