Sunday, January 20, 2008

Responding to email forwards

I've been thinking about this for a while, but finally decided to implement this plan for dealing with junk email forwards, specifically the ones that warn of the newest super-dangerous WILL KILL YOUR CHILDREN AND PILLAGE YOUR HOME virus. Basically, the plan is this: start with a form letter, enter a few specifics, then send it back to whoever sent it to me plus everyone who sent it in the forward chain as far back as I can find. Although I would hope it informs someone down the line, at least it helps me get out my aggressive tendencies toward serial forwarders. Anyway, here goes the form letter (required insertions/comments in CAPITALS):

You are receiving this message because you are in a forwarding chain of a hoax/false/insufficiently detailed email that eventually got to me. Nobody likes getting spam. At some point in the past few days, you sent some. You (or your friends) forwarded to their friends. Then, it got to me. You are a spammer. Here is how you can be part of the solution instead of being part of the problem.

1. When you receive any kinds of warnings by email, be wary of them. Most warnings that come over email are simply false. A small number are true, but exaggerated.
2. Email forwarding expands exponentially, and frequently is undated. Chances are, by the time you get it, even if it were true, it's not true anymore.
3. The more dire the warnings, the less likely it is that the details are true. Warnings such as "THIS WILL DESTROY ALL YOUR DATA INSTANTLY AND FRY YOUR HARD DRIVE AND EAT YOUR CHILDREN!" are exaggerated.
4. One should always practice safe Internet usage:
a. Don't open attachments from unknown sources.
b. Be wary of unrequested attachments from known sources.
c. Carefully read and respond to warnings sent by your software.
d. Use antivirus/antispyware software if you use Windows *or* switch to a Mac or Linux.
e. Disable macros if you use Microsoft Office, or don't use Microsoft Office.
f. Avoid use of insecure and buggy Internet software, such as Microsoft Internet Explorer and Outlook or Outlook Express. Use alternatives such as Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird.
99% of the time, whatever is warned about by these kinds of warnings, even *if* true, would have been prevented by these steps. So, no need to bother your friends, except to tell them those six things.

You can prevent this kind of spam by doing a tiny amount of research. For the email you sent me, the following <(INCLUDE A LINK THAT SHOWS THE EMAIL IS A HOAX)>, which was the *(INSERT NUMBER, IT'S USUALLY LOW) result* of a Google search I did proved that the email you sent was (INSERT THE LEVEL OF TRUTH OF THE FORWARD). It took me less than 10 seconds. You could have saved your friends (and their friends, and theirs) a bit of worry by doing the same thing I did, and not pressing forward.

And to make it even better, even if this email were true, I could not have been affected by the virus. I use Linux. X VIRUS would likely only affect Microsoft Windows. (INSERT DETAILS HERE; SINCE I'VE NEVER SEEN A VIRUS IN THE WILD THAT ATTACKS LINUX (OR MAC OS X) SYSTEMS, THIS IS RELEVANT) You would never know that from the email, either. (MOST VIRUS FORWARDS SAY "WILL ATTACK YOUR COMPUTER" AND ARE UNSPECIFIC ABOUT WHAT SYSTEMS ARE AFFECTED, EVEN IN THE RARE CASES THAT THEY'RE TRUE.)

In addition, your record of following instructions in a random email without even checking if you should shows that *you* should be the one worried about falling for virus attacks, identity theft scams, and other "social engineering" attacks sent by email.

Remember -- your friends have enough to worry about. Think before you forward.

Thanks for your time; no thanks for wasting mine.

The email you forwarded, and the forwarding chain showing how I got it is quoted below:

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This is longer than our emails about shul politics! Is anyone going to read it all the way through?! ;)
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