I received an e-mail from a friend describing the “worst virus ever,” but then I saw a report on the news that it was in fact a hoax. How can I tell the difference between a real and a hoax virus before I start to panic?
There are several ways to determine if a virus alert is a hoax or not.
First of all, an alert about a legitimate virus should always contain a hyperlink that will direct the user to an exact web page of an antivirus manufacturer, such as www.mcafee.com or www.symantec.com. The hyperlink will then detail more about the virus.
Secondly, you should be wary of warnings such as “Worst virus ever” or “The most damaging virus every found.” Antivirus companies, who would be the ones that would issue such a warning, will not use such statements for two reasons. First, doing so would cause panic, which is the last thing they want to do. Second, since every virus is different and affects each computer system differently, it would not be accurate to say that a particular virus was the “worst ever.”
Third, be cautious about any alert email that instructs you to remove files from your system. If the alert is legitimate and this action is necessary, these steps will be found on the antivirus manufacturer’s web site or Microsoft’s site, but usually will not be included in a valid email alert.
Finally, if you receive an email saying that Symantec (Norton Antivirus) or McAfee will not be able to detect the virus, double check with the named manufacturer. This will usually indicate a hoax, since antivirus manufacturers routinely update the virus definition files specifically so newly discovered viruses can be detected.
There are also several sites devoted to exposing hoaxes. One good example is www.vmyths.com  .
All that said, it is definitely worthwhile and recommended that users run a quality antivirus program frequently, using the most up to date virus definitions.
— Lee Trulove