Viruses, worms and hoaxes

Don't be too quick to pass on e-mail messages about the latest Internet viruses and worms until you have checked them out yourself

One of my personal and professional interests in the government information field is electronic records management. ERM refers to how federal and state agencies are managing electronic files that qualify as official records.

If you work in this arena, some federal Web sites are absolutely vital. Among them is the site of the Joint Interoperability Test Command at the Army's Fort Huachuca, Ariz. (jitc.fhu.disa.mil/recmgt). This is where you must go to find the latest information on Defense Department Standard 5015.2 and its associated testing program. The site was developed by the Pentagon and is now a fundamental information source for both industry and government.

For several weeks this summer, I could not access the JITC Web site. Because of the widely publicized Code Red worm, DOD had shut down access to all but higher- level Web sites. I could get to the JITC home page but was denied access to the records management subpages because I was not coming from a .mil or .gov domain.

Because I was scheduled to give a presentation that required the most current JITC information, I was reduced to phoning someone in DOD and asking to have the needed pages e-mailed to me. The information I needed is unclassified and normally available to anyone in the world.

Thousands of others must have similar stories to tell because Code Red wreaked havoc on many government Web sites. For example, on Aug. 20, Code Red forced the Federal Aviation Administration to shut down its home page and block all incoming e-mail messages. Most FAA employees were unable to access the Internet for an entire week.

All of us who are just trying to get on with our lives deplore the spread of computer viruses and worms throughout the Internet. The mischief- makers may be having fun, but I wish a pox upon their houses; the rest of us are getting only a pain in the neck.

Yet, a word of caution. Don't be too quick to pass on e-mail messages to everyone in your e-mail address book about the latest Internet viruses and worms until you have taken a moment to check the rumors out yourself. For every message I receive about a genuine new virus or worm, it seems another comes in that is a hoax. It's not a real virus or worm, just a false scare someone dreamed up.

One of the best Web sites for checking out rumors and hot tips is www. vmyths.com. Subtitled "Truth about computer virus myths and hoaxes," the site attempts to report the well-checked facts about those phenomena, including urban legends.

I recommend that everyone bookmark Vmyths or similar sites so as not to be guilty of aiding and abetting the spread of mass hysteria.

Sprehe is president of Sprehe Information Management Associates in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at jtsprehe@jtsprehe.com.

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