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Issue 22 - Hoax-Slayer Newsletter

Issue 22: 7th May, 2004

This week in Hoax-Slayer:
Read Previous Issues


Hoax-Slayer is a Free Monthly Web-Based Newsletter brought to you by Brett Christensen

The Hoax-Slayer Newsletter keeps you informed about the latest email hoaxes and current Internet scams. Hoax-Slayer also features anti-spam tips, computer security information, pertinent articles and more.

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Swiffer Wetjet Pet Death Rumour

A new "warning" email hitting inboxes this week claims that the cleaning product Swiffer Wetjet can lead to the death of your household pets. However, the claims in the rumour are completely unsubstantiated. The product does not contain anti-freeze or any similar substance that could cause liver failure in animals. A safety warning in the Swiffer Wetjet users guide admonishes uses to "AVOID ACCIDENTS: KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN AND PETS". However, such warnings are present on many cleaning products and do not in any way imply that animals (or children) could be harmed by licking residue left after use. Also, the company has the following information in the "Questions and Answers" section of their website:

Question
Is Swiffer safe for animals? What if my pet licks the floor?

Answer
Great news for you and your pets! Swiffer Wet and Swiffer WetJet are specially designed to not leave a residue on the floor, so there's no need to rinse. We suggest you make sure the floor is completely dry before letting your pet walk on it, though, because wet floors can be slippery. Since there isn't a residue, there are no problems if your pet licks the floor.

No more worrying about the owner of those muddy paw prints. You can enjoy the convenience of our Swiffer products without any worries for your pet's safety.


The company has responded to this email rumour by posting the following information on its website:

Are the ingredients safe?

Answer
We're glad you came to us for the facts about Swiffer WetJet. All our products have been evaluated by internal and external veterinarians and scientists, and Swiffer WetJet and Swiffer Wet cloths are safe to use around pets. Let us assure you, this rumor is completely false. Our Wet cloths and WetJet liquid solution cleaners do not contain antifreeze or any ingredient similar to it.

We have pets too and their health is very important to us. We hope you'll help us put an end to this rumor by letting others know the truth.


In any case the email lacks credibility in that it does not include names, places, or indeed, any way of verifying its spurious claims. If animals were really dying as a result of this product, its safe to assume that the information would be included in legitimate news articles and the relevant health authorities would be investigating the matter thoroughly.



Subject: Warning for your animal's health--

I recently had a neighbor who had to have their 5-year old German Shepherd dog put down due to liver failure. The dog was completely healthy until a few weeks ago, so they had a necropsy done to see what the cause was. The liver levels were unbelievable, as if the dog had ingested poison of some kind. The dog is kept inside, and when he's outside, someone's with him, so the idea of him getting into something unknown was hard to believe. My neighbor started going through all the items in the house. When he got to the Swiffer Wetjet, he noticed, in very tiny print, a warning which stated "may be harmful to small children and animals." He called the company to ask what the contents of the cleaning agent are and was astounded to find out that anitfreeze is one of the ingredients. (actually he was told it's a compound which is one molecule away from anitfreeze). Therefore, just by the dog walking on the floor cleaned with the solution, then licking it's own paws, and the dog eating from its dishes which were kept on the kitchen floor cleaned with this product, it ingested enough of the solution to destroy its liver. Soon after his dog's death, his housekeepers' two cats also died of liver failure. They both used the Swiffer Wetjet for quick cleanups on their floors. Necropsies weren't done on the cats, so they couldn't file a lawsuit, but he asked that we spread the word to as many people as possible so they don't lose their animals.


Reference:
http://www.homemadesimple.com/swiffer/usenglish/index.shtml



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Sasser Worm Generating Havoc

The Sasser worm and its variants are currently generating havoc across the Internet. Many businesses and organizations have been badly hit and the damage continues to grow. Unlike other worms that propagate via email, Sasser spreads by scanning randomly selected IP addresses for unpatched systems that are vulnerable to the worm. In other words, simply connecting to the Internet can infect your computer.

Sasser exploits the LSASS vulnerability in Windows 2000 and Windows XP systems. Although the worm cannot infect Windows 9x systems, it can still run on them and thereby infect other vulnerable systems.

In order to protect your computer from Sasser it is necessary to enable a firewall and ensure that the required update is downloaded and installed. You should also check that the worm is not already present on your system.

For detailed information about combating the Sasser worm, please access the following Internet resources:

What You Should Know About the Sasser Worm and Its Variants

Mikes VirusInfo - Sasser worm

Symantec W32.Sasser Removal Tool

In order to minimize the potential damage caused by this worm, it is important that all responsible computer users take steps to protect their systems. Also, if you are in a position to help a less experienced friend to protect her or his system, please take the time to do so.



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IRS Phisher Scam

The U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service have issued a warning to US citizens about a phisher scam that tries to trick recipients into submitting sensitive personal information. Emails, supposedly from the IRS, inform recipients that they are under investigation for alleged tax fraud. Recipients are instructed to visit a website and provide personal information in order to help the investigation and dispute the charge. However, the charges outlined in the scam email are imaginary and the link provided leads to a bogus web site designed to resemble an official government site. Victims who fall for the ruse may inadvertently hand over banking and credit card information and social security numbers to the scammers via a form on the bogus website.

The IRS would never discuss an individual's taxation details via email. Any email from a government department or financial institution that asks you to provide sensitive information should be held suspect until proven otherwise.

Although the bogus website has now been shut down, similar scam emails that link to newly created fake websites are likely to follow.

If you are a taxpayer in the US and have received one of these fraudulent emails you can report them to the Treasury Department fraud hot line at 1-800-366-4484.



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Virus Report: Weekly Virus Wrap-Up

The list below represents some of the most significant new virus threats identified by Symantec Security Response over the last few days.

W32.Sasser.Worm and its variants are a significant threat. See the article above.

W32.Supova.Z@mm is a worm that uses address that it finds in the MS Outlook address book to spread itself. It also spreads through IRC.

The email carrying the worm has the following characteristics:
Subject Line:
This document is interesting

Email Message:
Hi! How are you, i hope all okay. I send you an attachment that you should see.

Attachment name:
ha ha ha ha.doc.exe

W32.Netsky.AC@mm scans the infected computer for email addresses and send itself using its own SMTP engine. Subject and attachment names vary, as does the message.



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AAAAAAA@a.aaa Virus Control Hoax

The foolish and potentially dangerous hoax shown below has now been circulating for several years. The message claims that putting a bogus email address as the first entry in your address book will thwart attempts by an email worm to propagate itself. According to the message, sending of the worm will be terminated because the first delivery will fail and the user will be alerted of the attempt to send the worm via an error message. This version espouses "AAAAAAA@AAA.AAA" as the bogus address of choice. Other versions extol the virtues of "!000000" as a first address book entry.

Either way, this "trick" is seriously flawed and will do nothing whatsoever to protect you from almost all modern worms. These days, email worms are far too sophisticated to be controlled by such a simple procedure. Very few modern email worms harvest email addresses solely from your email program's address book. Most will scan the entire hard drive of the infected computer for email addresses and are therefore in no way reliant on address book entries. Also, most worms will not send themselves to all addresses at once. They are more likely to send a separately addressed message to each recipient and the addresses may not be used in the same order as they appear in an address book. Thus, a fake first entry address will not stop a worm even if it did send messages from the address book sequentially. The fake address will bounce, but other worm-laden messages will be sent without a problem.

And perhaps most importantly, many worms now use their own SMTP engine to send themselves, which means that they bypass your email program completely. Basically, such a worm comes loaded with everything it needs to establish a connection with a mail server and send itself to any email addresses it has harvested from the infected computer. Since the worm does not use an existing email application, the operator of the infected computer might not even be aware that a worm is propagating itself. Even if some of the worm messages do bounce because of fake or invalid addresses, the user will not receive any sort of error message.

This strategy may have been somewhat effective for the relatively primitive email worms of days gone by. However, these days it is virtually useless. In fact, rather than offer protection against worms, it may even make worm infections more likely. The inherent danger of this hoax is that users who apply this method may relax their guard and neglect viable anti-virus strategies.

The message claims that if "everybody you know does this then you need not ever worry about opening mail from family or friends". However this claim is doubly flawed. As explained above the "trick" is invalid and will not protect you from modern email worms. Moreover, many worms use address spoofing so that an email may not really be from a friend or family member, even if it appears to have his or her address in the "From:" field.

The only real protection against virus attack is to maintain a secure computing environment, run reliable and up-to-date anti-virus software and employ common sense. If you receive this "tip", please take a moment to let the sender know that it is not a viable method of email worm protection and should not be forwarded.

References:
Email Worm Spoofing - Spoofing Explained
AAAAAAA@AAA.AAA hoax

An example of the hoax email:
HOW TO PROTECT YOUR ADDRESS BOOK

I learned a computer trick today that's really ingenious in its simplicity. I received it from a friend.

As you may know, when/if a worm virus gets into your computer it heads straight for your e-mail address book, and sends itself to everyone in there, thus infecting all your friends and associates. This trick won't keep the virus from getting into your computer, but it will stop it from using your address book to spread further, and it will alert you to the fact, that the worm has gotten into your system.

Here's what you do; first, open your address book and click on "new contact", just as you would do if you were adding a new friend to your list of e-mail addresses.

In the window where you would type your friend's first name, type in "AAAAAAA", Also use address AAAAAAA@a.aaa

Now, Here's what you've done and why it works: The name AAAAAAA will be placed at the top of your address book as entry #1. This will be where the worm will start in an effort to send itself to all your friends. But, when it tries to send itself to AAAAAAA, it will be undeliverable because of the phony e-mail address you entered.

If the first attempt fails (which it will because of the phony address), the worm goes no further and your friends will not be infected.

Here's the second great advantage of this method: If an e-mail cannot be delivered, you will be notified of this in your IN BOX almost immediately. Hence, if you ever get an e-mail telling you that an e-mail addressed to AAAAAAA could not be delivered, you know right away that you have the worm virus in your system. You can then take steps to get rid of it!

Pretty slick, huh?

If everybody you know does this then you need not ever worry about opening mail from family or friends.



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Tip of the Week: Windows Key Shortcuts

The Windows keys, normally located 2 keys to the left and right of the space bar, might be more useful then you realize. Once incorporated into your every day computing style, these shortcuts can become quite worthwhile time savers.



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Feedback from Readers and Site Visitors

Each week a growing number of site visitors have been good enough to submit examples of hoax or scam emails they have received. If you receive a hoax or scam email, I would appreciate it if you would send me a copy.

Once again a large number of submission this week involve Nigerian Loan scams and Lottery scams.

A reader submitted a new version of the Xbox hoax from last year, which reads in part:

Greetings,

Your email address was entered into our Microsoft X-Box promotional competition by either yourself or a friend, or perhaps a family member, at http://www.pikoprizo.com

This is a prize draw, you have actually won a brand new Microsoft X-Box Gaming Console!



I've updated the write-up about this hoax to include the new version. See the XBox Giveaway Hoax page. If you've received this or a similar Xbox hoax I'd appreciate it if you would send me a copy.

The new Swiffer Pet Death hoax (See story above) has also been the subject of numerous submissions and enquires.

Popular pages on the Hoax-Slayer site this week include:

Perfume Email Hoax

Crying Baby Hoax

Amazon Rainforest Email Petition

Thanks again for your submissions and keep them coming!



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The Hoax_Slayer Newsletter is published by:
Brett M.Christensen
Queensland, Australia
All Rights Reserved
©Brett M. Christensen, 2009
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