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Internet Security Basics – Hoaxes

January 08, 2013

spam email or instant message (IM) that is typically called hoax.

What is a hoax?

A hoax on the Internet usually is a spam email or instant message (IM) that may be disguised as a warning about an impending threat, plea for help, an offering of news or an uplifting note. As a hoax, the relayed message is a lie or an exaggerated truth to make the information more interesting.

Most hoaxes encourage recipients to forward the message to friends so that it reaches the highest number of addresses. This is why so many hoaxes are considered chain emails.

A message may be a hoax if it contains:
- a request to forward or resend it;
- information reporting breaking news, a huge disaster or scandal; and/or
- an emphasis on its trustfulness and truthfulness.

To verify whether a message is real or not, check the list of most known hoaxes on the Hoax Slayer website.

How are hoaxes dangerous?

  1. Spreading secret or personal information
    If recipients forward a hoax to people on their contact list, those receivers not only get the message but a list of contacts and these contacts may be abused. You never know where the message may end up and who will use the list for unknown purposes, such as spreading viruses or spam.
  2. Overload network lines and servers
    During the height of a hoax message’s popularity, it may generate a high load of local networks or an Internet connection, which could be problematic.
  3. Blocked contacts
    Hoax and spam messages are annoying for every user, but it is especially frustrating if the same hoax is repeatedly received from various sources. Contacts may end up being blocked since recipients may lose trust in a sender’s Internet, as well as personal integrity.
  4. Damage to friends or business partners
    Hoaxes can affect personal or business relationships. Good friends may consider these messages as jokes, but business partners may react differently. Carefully consider the information sent to professional contacts and if forwarding, verify and describe the exact sources that give it credibility.
  5. Possible legal issues
    If you have an automatic signature set in your email client, a forwarded hoax freely provides information about you, e.g., telephone number, company, title, etc. Even worse, it may appear as though you authored the hoax.

How to fight against hoaxes?

Verify – If a message seems to be a hoax, verify whether it is a known hoax. Check the Hoax Slayer website and/or copy part of the message and paste it into the search box of any search engine and search to see what results you get about it.
Inform sender – Do not forward hoaxes, rather reply and inform the sender that the message being spread is a hoax.
Inform specialized servers – It is always a good idea to contact server providers or a community maintaining a list of hoaxes and inform them about this new type of spam or hoax.

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