Beware an Antivirus Myth

BY STANLEY ZAROWIN

Q. A friend told me about a way to protect against unwittingly spreading a virus that’s infected your computer to everyone in your address book—without using antivirus software. He said I should create a contact in my e-mail address book with the name 0000 and with no e-mail address in the details. He says this contact will then show up as my first contact; I tried it, and it works. Then, he said, if a virus attempts to do a “send all” on my contact list, my PC will generate an error message warning me that a recipient does not have an e-mail address, which alerts me that a virus may be trying to send to my whole list; and it does that, too. But does it really work?

A. In a word, no. Or to be more accurate, it will not work most of the time. Under certain circumstances, it will alert you, and if you are tech-savvy, you may be able to halt the virus from spreading. But it’s not a good idea to rely on it. Some person, either mean-spirited or with incomplete knowledge about viruses, spread the idea, claiming it’s foolproof. It’s become one of those fast-spreading urban legends that are hard to stop because many people who really don’t want to bother with antivirus software want to believe it.

What makes the idea reasonable is that it contains several kernels of truth: You will get such an error message, but few users will be knowledgeable enough to abort the message. Also, some e-mail viruses are sent to random addresses and some don’t even use the address book; they just reply to messages in your Inbox. Still other viruses use different send techniques.

The bottom line: Your best line of defense is good antivirus software that is frequently updated. And it’s always smart to be wary of attachments from strangers; know the identity of the e-mail sender before opening an attachment.

Also, when you hear about a virus threat, avoid automatically passing along a warning to others before you check out its validity at www.vmyths.com .

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