Another virus warning


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A new computer virus is spreading throughout the Internet, and it is far
more insidious than last week's Chernobyl menace. Named Strunkenwhite after
the authors of a classic guide to good writing, it returns e-mail messages
that have grammatical or spelling errors. It is deadly accurate in its
detection abilities, unlike the dubious spell checkers that come with word
processing programs.

The virus is causing something akin to panic throughout corporate America,
which has become used to the typos, misspellings, missing words and mangled
syntax so acceptable in cyberspace. The CEO of LoseItAll.com, an Internet
startup, said the virus has endered him helpless. "Each time I tried to send
one particular e-mail this morning, I got back this error message: 'Your
dependent clause preceding your independent clause must be set off By
commas, but one must not precede the conjunction.' I threw my laptop across
the room."

A top executive at a telecommunications and long-distance company,
10-10-10-10-10-10-123, said: "This morning, the same damned e-mail kept
coming back to me with a pesky notation claiming I needed to use a pronoun's
possessive case before a gerund. With the number of e-mails I crank out each
day, who has time for proper grammar? Whoever created this virus should have
their programming fingers broken." A broker at Begg, Barow and Steel said he
couldn't return to the "bad, old" days when he had to send paper memos in
proper English. He speculated that the hacker who created Strunken white was
a "disgruntled English major who couldn't make it on a trading floor. When
you're buying and selling on margin, I don't think it's anybody's business
if I write that 'i meetinged through the morning, then cinched the deal on
the cel phone while bareling down the xway.' "

If Strunkenwhite makes e-mailing impossible, it could mean the end to a
communication revolution once hailed as a significant timesaver. A study of
1,254 office workers in Leonia, N.J., found that e-mail increased employees'
productivity by 1.8 hours a day because they took less time to formulate
their thoughts. (The same study also found that they lost 2.2 hours of
productivity because they were e-mailing so many jokes to their spouses,
parents and stockbrokers.) Strunkenwhite is particularly difficult to detect
because it doesn't come as an e-mail attachment (which requires the
recipient to open it before it becomes active). Instead, it is disguised
within the text of an e-mail entitled "Congratulations on your pay raise."
The message asks the recipient to "click here to find out about how your
raise effects your pension." The use of "effects" rather than the
grammatically correct "affects" appears to be an inside joke from
Strunkenwhite's mischievous creator.

The virus also has left government e-mail systems in disarray. Officials at
the Office of Management and Budget can no longer transmit electronic
versions of federal regulations because their highly technical language
seems to run afoul of Strunkenwhite's dictum that "vigorous writing is
concise. " The White House speechwriting office reported that it had
received the same message, along with a caution to avoid phrases such as
"the truth is. . ." and "in fact. . . ." Home computer users also are
reporting snafus, although an e-mailer who used the word "snafu" said she
had come to regret it. The virus can have an even more devastating impact if
it infects an entire network. A cable news operation was forced to shut down
its computer system for several hours when it discovered that Strunkenwhite
had somehow infiltrated its TelePrompTer software, delaying newscasts and
leaving news anchors nearly tongue-tied as they wrestled with proper
sentence structure.

There is concern among law enforcement officials that Strunkenwhite is a
harbinger of the increasingly sophisticated methods hackers are using to
exploit the vulnerability of business's reliance on computers. "Thisis one
of the most complex and invasive examples of computer code we have ever
encountered. We just can't imagine what kind of devious mind would want to
tamper with e-mails to create this burden on communications," said an FBI
agent who insisted on speaking via the telephone out of concern that trying
to e-mail his comments could leave him tied up for hours. Meanwhile,
bookstores and online booksellers reported a surge in orders for Strunk &
White's "The Elements of Style."





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