Security

Top 10 sites to debunk urban legends


Has this ever happened to you?  You're busy working on an intense project when someone in the company excitedly forwards you one of those stupid urban legend chain mail spams asking if it is true.  Or worse, they simply forward it to everyone in the company without checking with you first.

It doesn't matter that you have a written IT policy on the company intranet explaining what a useless activity this is.  Nor does it matter that you have tried to explain to this individual several times that junk like this is really annoying to everybody who receives it.  They just don't seem to get it.

It's bad enough that we get spam from outside the company.  Do we have to endure it from our own employees also?  As the IT Manager I have to take a few minutes to debunk the latest urban legend that got the naive employee so excited.  What's worse, I have to be extra nice because it is an executive who forwarded the e-mail.

Of course the basic skill in responding to these interruptions is Google and keywords.  I am still amazed after all these years how many people don't know how to Google properly.  Maybe it's just the people in the company I work for are that are sadly Google-challenged.  Hopefully you have this better managed in your company.

I've often wished for a list of sites to which I could refer the offending co-worker so I decided to compile a short list of what I consider to be the top ten.  Actually, you really only need the top three but I've found the others to be useful on occasion.  Sometimes these sites can be entertaining reading but who has time for that?

1. Snopes- Who hasn't heard of Snopes?  This is the grand-daddy of all fact-checking sites.  Some of the worst chain spams even quote Snopes with an embedded link to give their e-mail an added level of authenticity.  Of course, Snopes has been known to be wrong and has changed their listings on several occasions.  They've also become very commercialized and include lots of pop-ups over the years - very annoying - but it is a very complete site.

2. About Urban Legends- This about.com subsite has been hosted for ten years by David Emery and frankly, he has done a great job.  He is passionate about finding and debunking all those rumors, myths, pranks and odd stories.  I have found lately that I am referring more people to his site than Snopes because I like the format better.  The site also shows up in more Google searches than the others indicating that the content is well linked and used.

3. Break The Chain- In 1999, John Ratliff was annoyed that he kept receiving the same chain spams forwarded to him over and over.  I have been just as annoyed for just as long but he did something about it.  Like most of these sites, John has plenty of healthy advertisements but no pop-ups.  His site is getting more professional looking all the time.  He is also frequently cited by the media when looking for an authoritative source on these stupid chain mails.

4. Hoaxbusters- The site has been around a long time (since 1995) and has a good archive but doesn't seem to be as current as it once was.  It is a part of the US Department of Energy - Computer Incident Advisory Capacity (CAIC).  Chances are that if you cannot find details of a hoax on one of the other sites, you may be able to find it here.  Because it has been around so long there are some dead links.  Hoaxbusters also contains a page of links to other hoax sites.

5. Sophos - This anti-virus company keeps a small list of hoaxes and urban legends but it is not nearly as complete as the sites at the top of this list.  Their focus is more on virus hoaxes -you know, the ones that scream that you will wipe your hard drive and melt the motherboard if you open the suspect e-mail.

6. F-Secure - They claim that their list is comprehensive and the industry standard source for all things hoax related.  Don't believe it.  If you click on their list of latest hoaxes you'll see that it hasn't been updated for a few years.  However, it is still a good list to search if you don't find what you're looking for elsewhere.

7. VMyths- Well referenced by specialists in the computer security field, VMyths takes Internet hoaxes and chain letters to a new level.  If you want to read what the real experts have to say about Internet hoaxes, virus scares, myths and legends, get it from Rob Rosenberger at VMyths.  Unfortunately, their lists are not comprehensive.

8. Symantec- I have a love-hate affair with Symantec.  I use their products but I've been burned by them several times lately.  That's a story for another post.  Their hoax list is pretty good but seems a little dated.  Maybe that's because most hoaxes today are really recycled from earlier hoaxes.

9. Trend Micro - They have improved their list lately with some good updates.  I like their style and formatting.  Obviously a company that sells AV solutions has a vested interest in keeping their hoax list up to date.  Check out their complete list of urban legends.  It has some entries that I have not seen elsewhere.

10. Virus Busters - A short list from the University of Michigan of hoaxes and legends that keep coming back.  Like the UofM, I have not seen a lot of new hoaxes lately - they are almost all repackaged oldies.  The list is not intended to be comprehensive but is a good reference point for what you will see on a regular basis.

I know I've missed the favorite site of somebody and would like to hear about it.  Add yours to the comments so we can all add to our knowledge of what's out there.  And may your New Year not include a batch of new employees who feel they must educate you about Bill Gates' desire to send you big bucks for forwarding chain letters.

Update: Several readers pointed out that I should have included TruthOrFiction.com in this list.  I agree.  I don't know how I missed this excellent site from Rich Buhler.  In fact, I would put it towards the top of the list.  Thanks.

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