By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
A couple of years ago, OC's best alternative weekly got hit with a virus. The bug was a Microsoft Word macro virus, which, when you opened a file, randomly whisked through reorganizing the text and occasionally inserting the mystery word "wazzu." (Bonus points to any Weekly reader who noticed the one "wazzu" that made it into print.)
We still don't know how we got infected, though our tech folks thought the Internet (the Typhoid Mary of the information economy) was the most likely culprit.
Although there are real viruses out there, they are vastly outnumbered by the virus hoaxes continually circulating on the Internet. A warning about the latest, headed "New Virus Alert," showed up in my mailbox the other day, urging me to beware of an e-mail message titled "It Takes Guts to Say 'Jesus.'"
"DO NOT open it," the message warned. "It will erase everything on your hard drive. Forward this letter to as many people as you can. This is a new, very malicious virus, and not many people know about it."
Needless to say, the warning is a hoax. IBM, which was cited in the e-mail as being the source of the virus warning, denied all responsibility on its Antivirus Online Web site (www.av.ibm.com). Several other anti-virus sites have also identified the Jesus virus as a hoax, placing it in the ranks of the Good Times virus (which also purported to destroy your hard drive) and the Budweiser frogs screen saver.
The following are some ways to tell if the latest virus warning is legit or yet another hoax:
1. If the message asks you to forward it to everyone you know, we're most likely talking hoax. This is how they propagate.
2. Many virus hoaxes drop a famous name or two to lend credibility-the Jesus e-mail mentioned IBM and AOL. Check the Web site of the companies; if they've been unwittingly enlisted in a hoax, they'll usually debunk it on their site.
3. Check out the "virus" online. Two excellent sites that maintain lists of currently circulating hoaxes (and real virus threats) are the Antivirus Online and the Computer Virus Myths sites (www.kumite.com/myths).
HOUSE TAX CUTTERS
Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of Internet debunkers, old hoaxes never die-they just get recirculated. One urban legend that's been hanging around since 1987 is currently causing a bit of a headache for two OC representatives.
Representatives Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) and Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) have posted letters on their Web sites (www.house.gov/sanchez and www.house.gov/royce) about a proposed Internet-access "tax." Both reassure their constituents that fee hikes for local Internet access are not going to take place. Sanchez's letter states that the Federal Communications Commission is currently considering "reciprocal compensation" payments between phone companies, which could include modem calls but would not directly affect consumers. Royce's site is blunter. "If you have recently seen a message on the Internet stating that Congress or the FCC is going to charge ISPs interstate-access fees, this information is inaccurate," the site says.
The particular message Royce is referring to is the latest outbreak of a classic hoax suggesting that Congress will allow phone carriers to charge Internet users for a long-distance call every time they access the Net. The most recent version-which began cropping up on Usenet over the past few months, apparently in response to the reciprocal-compensation proposal-urges recipients to contact their representatives to protest the "tax."
Royce's press secretary, Bryan Wilkes, said they've been swamped with messages. "We have gotten hundreds upon hundreds of e-mails, letters and phone calls," he said. "With the exception of the impeachment trial, we have not received more e-mails on any other subject."
Lee Godown of Sanchez's office reports they've received probably 500 calls and e-mails since November. But he was unaware the hoax was more than a decade old.
The story has its origins in a surcharge the FCC was considering imposing on data transmission over phone lines; the agency rejected the proposal in 1988. But in 1991, it popped back up as a hoax, and authorities have been denying the story ever since. The FCC has even issued a statement debunking the hoax to little avail (read the official statement at www.fcc.gov/Bureaus/Common_Carrier/Factsheets/ispfact.html). Royce's and Sanchez's efforts, while a good try, will probably be about as effective.
"I took a look at the letter [on our site] this morning," Godown said, "and it's a little confusing. We could probably be simpler about it: 'House not on fire. Don't get bucket.'"
It used to be that anti-porn activists complained about online smutmongers taking advantage of children's sweet, innocent, trusting natures. Now they're fretting about pornographers who take advantage of kids' shoddy literacy skills.
A frequent tactic among, shall we say, less reputable adult sites is to register variations of popular site addresses in hopes of luring unwary typists to view their wares. The most infamous example, of course, is Whitehouse.com, which relies on surfers inadvertently typing www.whitehouse.com instead of the official White House address, www.whitehouse.gov. Unwilling visitors to the adult site are treated to-surprise!-lots and lots of shots of nekkid ladies, including an "Intern of the Month," "First Ladies" and other similarly themed erotica.