One of the jobs I carried out for a customer this week started off looking like a normal Windows corruption but upon further investigation things began to get a little bit interesting. Asked if any modifications to the computer or software had occurred over the past couple of days, the customer replied by saying that he’d recently received a virus through his e-mail account that he subsequently deleted and he was wondering if maybe that was what had caused the current damage. As means of supporting his claim that he had a virus, he produced the following e-mail that had been forwarded to him from a friend;

"I have unwittingly been infected with a virus from someone's e-mail. The virus sends itself to all the addressees in the address book of the computer it has arrived at. Since you are in my address book it may get to you. Take the time and remove it now. The instructions are easy to follow and I got rid of the virus in about 30 seconds. Some versions of anti virus software including Norton and Inoculate T have not been able to detect it. It is said the virus hides in the computer for 2 weeks and then damages the disk irreparably. The virus is called sulfnbk.exe. Many apologies for the trouble this is causing."

Of course, after receiving such an e-mail, my customer immediately searched for the file ‘sulfnbk.exe’ and to his horror the file was found in his Windows directory and so obviously not wanting a virus on his machine he immediately deleted said file then got back to his usual routine. The problem with this little routine was that the e-mail turned out to be a hoax and in fact sulfnbk.exe is an important system file that’s present in every copy Windows 98. Every user with this Operating System who received the hoax e-mail and attempted to search for the supposedly infected file, would of course have found it and those who didn’t check out the authenticity of the e-mail first would then have deleted the file and therefore corrupted their Windows installation; very clever.
In addition, the e-mail suggests that the virus could have been sent out by your machine to everybody in your address book and so it urges you to e-mail them all with the removal instructions so they too can delete the file. Obviously all the contacts in your address book wouldn’t be too pleased that you’d e-mailed them instructions on how to quickly and easily corrupt their own Windows installation and as a result you may find yourself losing a couple of good friends!

So, there’s a lesson to be learned from all of this. Firstly, the Internet is even less safe than it may first seem; not only do you have to worry about real viruses, you also have to worry about hoaxes warning you about fictional viruses. It’s also important to remember not to always believe what you receive through your e-mail account, even if you know the sender. Finally, don’t encourage hoaxing by actually forwarding the e-mails you receive without first checking out a list of known hoaxes from a source such as At the end of the day, I’d make a guess and say that probably around 99% of the e-mails claiming to give information about a new virus are fabricated so just stop for a minute and think whether the information contained is likely to be accurate. The people creating these e-mails are praying on the vulnerabilities of new computer users to no constructive use and it should be stopped.

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