M. E. Kabay, PhD, CISSP-ISSMP
Professor of Computer Information Systems
Norwich University, Northfield, VT
This is another in a continuing series devoted to how ordinary people can protect themselves when using the Internet.
One category of hoaxes has become a perennial nuisance on the 'Net: virus myths. There is something wonderful about the willingness of gullible, well-meaning people to pass on ridiculous news about non-existent viruses with impossible effects. One of the most famous is the Good Times "virus" which appeared around 1994. It and its variants have been circulating uninterruptedly for years. Every few years, there's a new outburst as some newcomer to the Internet encounters an old copy of the warnings and sends it to everyone they know.
Just recently, we suffered through the nuisance of having thousands of people duped by irresponsible pranksters who informed their gullible audience that the perfectly inoffensive Windows file called “sulfnbk.exe” contained a dangerous virus. Thousands erased that file for no good reason and then sent the stupid message on to their friends. In other words, the hoax managed to turn foolish, trusting people into the agents of their own file destruction.
On the lighter side, one of the oldest virus hoaxes is the Good Times hoax, which appeared in December 1994. The original very short warning was as follows, including the incorrect punctuation:
Here is some important information. Beware of a file called Goodtimes.
Happy Chanukah everyone, and be careful out there.There is a virus on America Online being sent by E-Mail. If you get anything called "Good Times", DON'T read it or download it. It is a virus that will erase your hard drive. Forward this to all your friends. It may help them a lot.
The Good Times virus claimed that downloading a document or reading a document could cause harm; at that time, such a claim was impossible. Ironically, within a couple of years, it did in fact become possible to cause harm via documents because of the macro language capabilities of MS-Word. Over the rest of the 1990s, foolish people modified the name of the imaginary virus and added more details, sometimes claiming impossible effects such as destruction of computer hardware. A satirical version of these hoaxes that appeared around 1996 took such claims to hilarious extremes:
The Latest Breaking News on the GOODTIMES Virus.
It turns out that this so-called hoax virus is very dangerous after all. Goodtimes will re-write your hard drive. Not only that, it will scramble any disks that are even close to your computer. It will recalibrate your refrigerator's coolness setting so all your ice cream goes melty. It will demagnetize the strips on all your credit cards, screw up the tracking on your television and use subspace field harmonics to scratch any CDs you try to play.
It will give your ex-girlfriend your new phone number. It will mix Kool-aid into your fishtank. It will drink all your beer and leave dirty socks on the coffee table when company comes over. It will put a dead kitten in the back pocket of your good suit pants and hide your car keys when you are late for work.
Goodtimes will make you fall in love with a penguin. It will give you nightmares about circus midgets. It will pour sugar in your gas tank and shave off both your eyebrows while dating your girlfriend behind your back and billing the dinner and hotel room to your Discover card.
It will seduce your grandmother. It does not matter if she is dead, such is the power of Goodtimes, it reaches out beyond the grave to sully those things we hold most dear.
It moves your car randomly around parking lots so you can't find it. It will kick your dog. It will leave libidinous messages on your boss's voice mail in your voice! It is insidious and subtle. It is dangerous and terrifying to behold. It is also a rather interesting shade of mauve.
Goodtimes will give you Dutch Elm disease. It will leave the toilet seat up. It will make a batch of Methamphetamine in your bathtub and then leave bacon cooking on the stove while it goes out to chase gradeschoolers with your new snowblower.
— circulated through the Net via e-mail in Jan 97
Unaware people circulate virus hoaxes because they receive the hoax from someone they know. Unfortunately, the friendliness of a sender has nothing to do with the accuracy of a message. Transmitting technical information about viruses without verifying that information's legitimacy and accuracy is a disservice to your friends. It makes it harder for experts to reach the public with warnings of real dangers and clutters up recipients' e-mail in-baskets with alarming information of no use whatever.