I expect you get them too. The dreadful hoaxes which say if you open an email with the subject line "Merry Christmas" the ice caps will immediately melt, your PC will attach itself to your tongue and drag you beneath the rising waters, or some such.

Stupid as these warnings are it does pay to remember that the bad guys really are out to get you. Or at least your computer.

Your computer is valuable as a zombie, a machine that is taken over by the baddies and while you are sleeping or having dinner is quietly sending out offers of penis enlargement or prescription pharmaceuticals to all and sundry.

Recently a house guest wanted to use our computer to check and answer a few emails. Not an unreasonable request you might think. Nor did I, so opened Firefox (my browser of choice at the moment) and left him to it.

A bit later on he returned and sheepishly owned up that he could not access  all the features on the web sites he wanted to with Firefox so he'd opened Internet Explorer and done his browsing there.

Sadly Internet Explorer relies on lots of warnings, assuming it is actually set up to give any, which is not always the case. What then happen is is that the warnings are ignored and the user is induced to open whatever malware is on offer. This is sometimes called the  "Dancing Pigs" problem.

Bruce Schneier explains the phenomenon as follows:

"If J. Random Websurfer clicks on a button that promises dancing pigs on his computer monitor, and instead gets a hortatory message describing the potential dangers of the applet — he’s going to choose dancing pigs over computer security any day. If the computer prompts him with a warning screen like: "The applet DANCING PIGS could contain malicious code that might do permanent damage to your computer, steal your life’s savings, and impair your ability to have children," he’ll click OK without even reading it. Thirty seconds later he won’t even remember that the warning screen even existed."

Basically the rules for safe computing are simple but surprisingly hard to find. This will be the subject of another Tech Tip article.