"Olympic torch" virus warning is really a hoax

February 14, 2006 Sophos Press Release

Experts at SophosLabs™, Sophos's global network of virus, spyware and spam analysis centers, have warned users not to fall for a new hoax spreading across the internet, posing as a warning of a non-existent virus.

The Olympic Torch hoax warns email users to be wary of emails with the subject line "Invitation", and claims that it has been classified as "the most destructive virus ever."

The hoax claims that the "virus simply destroys the Zero Sector of the Hard Disc". Sophos is receiving an increasing number of reports of the hoax from users who are concerned it may be genuine.

"The warning is clearly nonsense and no such virus exists," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos. "However, hoaxes and chain letters like this are not harmless - they waste time and bandwidth, and can be a genuine headache for support departments. Users need to think ask themselves whether everything they are told can be believed."

Part of the hoax message reads as follows:

Do not open any message with an attached filed called "Invitation" regardless of who sent it. It is a virus that opens an Olympic Torch which "burns" the whole hard disc C of your computer. This virus will be received from someone who has your e-mail address in his/her contact list, that is why you should send this e-mail to all your contacts. It is better to receive this message 25 times than to receive the virus and open it

"Hoaxes like this exist because it's so easy to forward an electronic warning to all of your friends and colleagues, and many people who may be suspicious of the warning decide it's better to be safe than sorry." continued Cluley. "People should think very carefully before they send a message on to all of their contacts, as they may be perpetuating an irritating hoax. You should always check to see if it is believable, and not a known hoax, before even considering sending it onto other computer users."

Sophos warns that hoaxes can cause serious problems, as innocent users over-react to the alert. Sometimes users become convinced that they have become infected by the bogus virus, and when their anti-virus software "fails" to find the infection resort to deleting critical files or formatting their hard drive.

"Virus hoaxes aren't just a nuisance, they're a menace," continued Cluley. "By forwarding these hoaxes to your friends and family you could be panicking them into taking the worst possible action."

Sophos has made available a series of free, constantly updated RSS feeds which enable users to always find out about the latest viruses and hoaxes.