MP3 hoax sings a sorry tune

Virus experts and members of online message boards are decrying a purported MP3 virus as a hoax.

Virus experts and members of online message boards are decrying a purported MP3 virus as a hoax.

A document dated June 27 and posted to several Internet newsgroups warns of an "imbedded hybrid computer code" named MusicPanel that has been secretly buried in the MP3 files of 500 popular songs distributed over the past eight months among users of popular music file-trading networks Napster and Gnutella. The warning says that this virus will strike downloaded MP3 music files on July 4.

Rob Rosenberger, operator of Vmyths.com, a Web site devoted to debunking computer virus myths and hoaxes, posted an alert on his site calling the document a prank.

"The hoax describes itself as a 'press release,' yet it reads more like a manifesto against music piracy," the Vmyths alert states. "Case in point: the hoaxster insists MusicPanel 'was not developed in conjunction with any record labels or publishers nor with the Recording Industry of America or other organization.'"

Vmyths also notes that the document refers to the MusicPanel code as a "global weapon" against music piracy.

Rosenberger and other virus aficionados on message boards point out that data files such as MP3s cannot execute by themselves and thus cannot have computer viruses embedded in them.

Virus watchers say that hoaxes are testimony to the international community's increasing awareness--and fear--of computer viruses. For instance, news reports of the AnnaKournikova virus, which took the form of a worm attachment, spread around the world in a matter of hours, and computer users were on heightened alert for e-mails featuring the tennis star.

A month ago, a phony virus known as sulfnbk.exe had computer users around the world scrambling to delete--and later reinstate--an innocuous file.

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