Security Resouces

Characteristics of Viruses and Virus Hoaxes

There are thousands of viruses circulating each day with various payloads and means of propagation. The messages may be from an unknown sender or from someone you know. The damage caused by a virus can vary, affecting your personal computer as well as overloading email servers and networks. In order to protect your devices from infection, it is important to understand the characteristics of virus emails and hoaxes, and the importance of updating the anti- virus software installed on your devices on a regular basis.

Occasionally, messages are sent warning users of a virus threat and encouraging individuals to notify all of their contacts. Often, these messages are not viruses at all, but are hoaxes. Virus hoaxes are more than mere annoyances, as they may lead some users to routinely ignore all virus warning messages, leaving them vulnerable to a genuine, destructive virus.

Virus hoaxes have the following characteristics:

  • The message is forwarded to you by a friend or colleague.
  • The message usually does not contain an attachment
  • The message urges you to forward the email to everyone you know.
  • The email describes in detail the alleged virus and what it is capable of doing to your system. It does not include a link to a known anti- virus website such as Norton or McAfee. A legitimate virus warning will include a link to these trusted sites for more information regarding the virus.
  • The message sometimes encourages you to delete or rename system files in order to protect your system from infection. Doing so often prevents windows from functioning properly.
  • The message references a third party who can validate the claim.

The SMU Exchange email server automatically scans all incoming mail for possible virus files provided the mail is accessed through Webmail or the Outlook client. If you have an outside email account that you access on campus such as Outlook.com, AOL, or Yahoo, please exercise caution when opening any attachments.

Communications from OIT

It is very rare that you will receive legitimate warning messages regarding the release of a new virus, or necessary software patches and updates by email. OIT will send bulk email messages if a virus is spreading rapidly across campus; however, these messages are rare.

Getting Help

If you receive information regarding a virus or a suspicious email, please feel free to contact the IT Help Desk. We will be happy to research any virus reports for you. Please do not forward suspicious emails to any other address. The best way to prevent viruses from infecting your devices or spreading to others is to exercise caution when opening attachments, update the virus definitions on your anti-virus software regularly, and be wary of suspicious emails instructing you to perform some action on your computer.