What are virus hoaxes

Virus hoaxes are fake virus reports resembling the chain letters of yesteryear. Virus hoaxes are threatening and scaremongering, unlike those old chain letters, which promised all sorts of luck and oodles of cash if you forwarded the letter to X number of people. Unlike viruses, virus hoaxes do not self-replicate. People who forward them on are either fooled by the threats and (helpfully) want to warn others, or have a knee-jerk reaction to share anything unusual in their inbox.

How does a virus hoax start and spread?

  1. Typically, a virus hoax starts as a single email or message sent randomly to individuals, is shared via an organization’s internal network, is forwarded through a messaging app like Whatsapp, or is posted on social media like Facebook.
  2. Because of its alarming content, well-meaning recipients forward it to friends, family, and colleagues, who in turn forward it to their friends, family, and colleagues.
  3. Well-meaning friends, family, and colleagues, create their own versions of the message and post it on social media and share it in their IM groups. Sometimes, like Chinese whispers, the message is distorted, making it difficult to pinpoint the origin of the message and whether there is any conceivable truth in it.

9 characteristics of typical virus hoaxes (with examples)

The first documented virus hoax was the 2400 Baud Modem Virus in 1988. The Good Time virus hoax, discovered in 1988, was one of the most “successful” ever, rearing its ugly head regularly, and instigating a number of similar hoaxes, including the satirical Bad Times virus hoax. The sulfnbx.exe (2001) was typical of more harmful virus hoaxes, using social engineering techniques to panic message recipients into acting without thinking, in this case, deleting legitimate files.

Here are some telltale signs of a virus hoax:

  1. Prompts users to unnecessarily delete certain files on their computers, claiming they are viruses. (jdbgmgr.exe)
  2. Appears to come from an authoritative source or claims the “virus” in question is undetectable by reputable antivirus software. (A Virtual Card for You)
  3. Sensationalist – style of writing characterized by excessive use of capitals and exclamation marks; specious jargon; and panicky tone warning of impending disaster. (I’m Your Shadow)
  4. Usually circulated by email but increasingly by messaging apps and social media, the message sender without fail urges the recipient to pass the message on. (Sonia disowns Rahul)
  5. Often there is a tenuous link to current events or discussions in the news or on social media. (Trump suffering from a stroke)
  6. Contains multiple inaccuracies easily Googled; they never stand up to investigation. (Giraffe)
  7. Misleading subject line/name. (Free pizza)
  8. Often patently ridiculous/impossible. (Blast your phone)
  9. May closely resemble actual viruses, even in name. (Here you have it)

List of virus hoaxes

Virus HoaxDate
AppleCare2018
Bangkok 8.5 Earthquake Video2018
Chrome critical error2018
Compromising video2018
Google Critical Security Alert2018
Your system is heavily damaged by (4) virus!2018
A call will blow up your phone - 7778889992017
Dear Friends2017
Martinelli video2017
Mr Common Sense2017
MSN Contact List2017
Power Line2017
Trump suffering from a stroke2017
Donald Trump arrested2016
Merry Christmas2016
Mr Bean dead2016
On est tu Paris2016
Sonya disowns Rahull2016
Whatsapp Gold2016
Dance of the Hillary2015
Dance of the Pope2015
Never pick up the phone2015
MAS Overboard Movie2014
Patriotic2014
System322014
Burning hard disk2013
Death Age2013
Disfigured2013
FBI (various names)2013
Giraffe Facebook2013
Little Girl2013
Priyanka2013
Red Alert2013
Windows Live Update2012
Zombie2012
Breaking Dawn2011
Do not add (Jason Lee, Linda Smith, Jason Allen, etc.)2011
May God always bless2011
Pink Profile Pic2011
Smartgrrl152011
SOMA2011
Barak Obama resignation2010
Christmas tree2010
Facebook pictures2010
Farmville 3 spring eggs2010
Farmville white gift box2010
Girl who killed herself2010
Gordon Brown Smiling2010
Here you have2010
Koobface/Knob face2010
Black muslim in the white house2009
Sleeper2009
Postcard from Hallmark2008
Reeirti2008
Awareness2007
Evil The Cat2007
FatCat2007
Hitler2007
How to Give a Cat a Colonic2007
Jan1st20.exe2007
Mark Genesis Gallardo2007
Matrix2007
Norman2007
Pandemic Computer2007
Rugbylegend2007
SARC Test2007
South Park News Letter2007
Time Bomb2007
Very Cool2007
W2sync2007
Welcome to the Matrix2007
Mail server report2006
MySpace J_Neutron07 virus2006
Olympic Torch2006
ICE virus hoax2005
Wireless TV virus2005
YIM Hard drive killer2005
I really like you2004
Resident Evil, see T-Virus2004
slfnbk.exe2004
T-2004
T-Virus2004
Work virus2004
Bedtimes2003
BestBuy Order Fraud Alert2003
Google Trojan2003
Got You2003
Iraq War2003
Kleneu662003
La Bible Des Moines2003
MFG/W32.MFG.Tassos@mm2003
MSN Messenger add a contact2003
Tassos2003
W32.MFG.Tassos@mm2003
W32.XPExp.Worm2003
Feb-012002
A Beautiful Life2002
A Vida é Bela2002
Ace, see Mobile phone hoax2002
Flaming monitor2002
Fluxor2002
Goldbear2002
JDBMGR2002
Launch Nuclear Strike Now2002
Life is Beautiful2002
Postal Service Email Charge2002
Spam removal tools2002
W32-PrPlCrcl-G2002
Wooden Horse2002
48 hours2001
A virtual card for you2001
Amish hoax2001
Antichrist2001
AOL.exe2001
Bicho72001
Dana2001
DR.SIMON.WAJNTRAUBWS2001
Economic Slow Down in US2001
Escrocs et portables2001
Family Pictures2001
Foot n Mouth2001
Forward2001
Gamma2.exe2001
I'm your shadow2001
Loft Story2001
Manual virus/Taliban virus hoax2001
Meninas da Playboy2001
MusicPanel2001
NEWYORK BIG DIRT2001
Osama Vs Bush2001
Pikachus Ball2001
Pluperfect2001
Pretty Flower2001
Psychospiel2001
St. Patrick's Day2001
SULFNBK2001
The New Ice Age2001
Virtual Card for You2001
Wait 48 hours2001
WAZ UP2001
WordScribe2001
WTC Survivor2001
A moment of silence2000
All Seeing Eye2000
AltaVista2000
An Internet flower for you2000
ASP hoax2000
Baby New Year2000
Badtimes2000
Be My Valentine2000
Be Spooked2000
Big Brother2000
Blue Mountain2000
BuddyLst2000
California IBM2000
CELCOM screen saver2000
Daisy Chain2000
Death692000
Debug device2000
Desi1love2000
Dipsy2000
Discount2000
Don't drink too much2000
El Poco2000
Elf Bowling2000
Fighting Canaries2000
Flashmaster G2000
Flower for You2000
Get more money2000
Gevaarlijk2000
Girl thing2000
Graphic file2000
Great Gas-Out2000
Hairy Palms Trojan2000
Halloween2000
Happy New Year2000
Hello Dear2000
Help poor dog2000
Hey You2000
Honour system2000
Hooming G-Gnome2000
How to deep fry a cat/PBR2000
Internet Flower for You2000
Irish2000
It takes guts to say 'Jesus'2000
Kali, see Lets watch TV2000
Lets watch TV2000
Londhouse AltaVista2000
Lotus Notes Worm2000
Moment of Silence2000
MPEG virus2000
NastyFriend2000
PBR2000
Penpal Greetings2000
Perrin.exe2000
Phantom Menace2000
Pokemon2000
Pool Party2000
Returned or Unable to Deliver2000
Sandman2000
Sassy2000
Scoutshacker2000
Sector Zero2000
Simon Pugh2000
Slatko/Zlatko2000
Teletubbies2000
Tuxissa2000
Ukraine2000
Unavailable mobile phone2000
Upgrade Internet 22000
Valentine's Greetings2000
Watching2000
Win a Holiday2000
Y2K72000
Your friend D@fit2000
Your friend is the scoutshacker2000
A.I.D.S.1999
Blueballs Are Underrated1999
CellSaver1999
Despite1999
Free Pizza1999
FROGAPULT, ELFBOWL, Y2KGAME1999
Guts to Say Jesus1999
John Kennedy Jr Trojan1999
Lump of Coal1999
Mobile Phone1999
NASTYFRIEND991999
Wobbler/California1999
World Domination1999
ZZ3311999
AOL (list of various)1998
FNBK, see SULFNBK1998
Join the Crew1998
Memphis.98.MMS1998
NaughtyRobot spider1998
Budweiser1997
Deeyenda Maddick1997
Irina1996
PKZIP3001995
2400 Baud modem1988
2400 baud modem subcarrier1988
Bloat MP31988
Good Times1988
Hacky Birthday1988
Android fake virus alert
Ashley Mark James
BlankA, see JDBGMGR
Invitation/break the chain
Malicious joke home pages
Penal Greetings, see Penpal Greetings
Teddy, see JDBGMGR
Teddybear, see JDBGMGR
XALAN, see Mobile phone

4 examples of virus hoax opportunism and collateral damage

Virus hoaxes are supposedly harmless. Or, are they? Early hoax viruses used a lot of bandwidth, wasted people’s time (at some cost to businesses), and caused a great deal of anxiousness and fear, for home users in particular. In the early-2000s, what had been a prank or joke, evolved into something more sinister. For instance, hoax virus messages provoked users to delete files, supposedly viruses, unnecessarily. Today, hoax virus messages are disseminated on social media networks, ideal platforms for wide-spread scaremongering.

A new entity is evolving – what one may call the virus hoax hybrid. It is developing new potentialities, e.g. host to real malware, marketing tool, automated troll, and Trojan behavior. Let’s look at some examples of how some virus hoaxes are shape-shifting.

  1. Irina (1996) – There have been a few cases where otherwise reputable firms irresponsibly used virus hoaxes in publicity stunts. Irina was, according to researcher Graham Cluley, a publicity stunt for a book, Irina, published by Penguin.
  2. Red Team virus (1998) – Real viruses may masquerade as virus hoaxes. The Red Team virus message included an attachment to what appeared to be a virus hoax alert. The notification claimed the .exe file was an antidote to Red Team.
  3. Mail Report Server (2006) – Typical virus hoaxes are harmless. However, there is a risk the original sender, on an attention-seeking high, could attach a real virus in a follow-up hoax.
  4. May God always bless (2011) – Traditionally circulated by email, virus hoaxes today spread at a rapid rate via social media and messaging apps. The old Olympic torch invitation virus hoax, for instance, made an appearance on Facebook some five years after the original email version. Facebook is the ideal environment to spread virus hoaxes. It’s gratifyingly instant (to provoke and receive responses); allows text formatting, eye-catching emojis, and graphics to decorate; pretty much guarantees likes and shares; and is a 24/7 medium (someone, somewhere in the world, will always be awake.) In fact, Facebook sort of blames its Bold Text feature for the May God always bless virus hoax. Variations on the Linda Smith / Jason Lee virus hoax threaten to subvert what ordinary people think of Facebook as a safe digital neighborhood to meet with family and connect in their online communities. Users‘ imaginings are beginning to see it as littered with virtual discarded syringes. When revealed as hoaxes, people who have (in all good faith and innocence) passed on virus messages may feel embarrassed about being taken in. Virus hoaxes can promote mockery and shaming by peers via posts like the stupidity virus.

Sources and best sites to verify virus hoaxes

The virus hoaxes listed here were sourced primarily from the following websites. Sometimes more than one resource was used to verify discovery dates; in some cases, the discovery date is simply the first mention made of it on the internet found. The first two entries, in particular, have comprehensive alphabetized lists of virus hoaxes.

You should verify a suspicious email about a virus before acting on it. You can use the links above on the virus hoax list in this article. Never forward a virus hoax message, however tempting it may be to share something you find amusing with friends. Sharing virus hoaxes clogs internet servers (inevitably, if everyone does it, your machine will also be affected), and puts your contacts at risk.

What to do if you receive a virus hoax

Virus alerts from genuine sources never ask their customers or the general public to forward messages; they are perfectly capable of spreading the message themselves.

If you receive or are forwarded what appears to be a virus hoax, verify it is indeed a hoax (use the list of sources above.)

  • If the message is a virus hoax, do not reply to the message or forward it to anyone. Delete the message.
  • If the message you have been forwarded is a virus hoax, send the verification URL to the sender of the message with a polite message (and perhaps a link to this article.)
  • If the message is notification of a real virus, you do not need to reply to the sender. If you feel the need to pass the warning on to friends or family, include a link to the web page where you verified the virus is real.

In all cases, do not under any circumstances open any attachments or follow any links. As we have seen, there are cases where viruses masquerade as virus hoaxes and may be dangerous.

On social media, never post a message about a virus hoax you have received. Virus hoaxes on Facebook often ask people to copy and paste messages on their own timelines. This helps to keep the hoax fresh and hide the identity of the original sender.

Read about the gullibility virus, an amusing (and sobering) summation of why virus hoaxes “work.”