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Topic: Good Times Virus: The FAQ (fwd)
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Sandra Pratt

Posts: 7
Registered: 12/6/04
Good Times Virus: The FAQ (fwd)
Posted: May 1, 1995 7:05 PM
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---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, 30 Apr 1995 08:26:54 EDT
To: Multiple recipients of list LM_NET <LM_NET@SUVM.SYR.EDU>
Subject: Good Times Virus: The FAQ

Sorry if this has been posted here already. In light of the recent
resurgence, I thought it might help.
Michael Kankiewicz
Business / Government Documents
Lockwood Memorial Library
University at Buffalo

----------------------------Original message----------------------------

The Good Times email virus is a hoax! If anyone tries to spread the hoax,
please show them the FAQ.

Good Times Virus Hoax FAQ

by Les Jones

April 24, 1995

This document can be freely reproduced in any medium,
as long as it is distributed unmodified and in its entirety.

Is the Good Times email virus a hoax?

Yes. It's a hoax.

America Online, government computer security agencies, and makers of
anti-virus software have declared Good Times a hoax. See Online References
at the end of the FAQ.

Since the hoax began in December of 1994, no copy of the alleged virus was
ever found, nor have there been verified first hand reports of the virus.

Why should I believe you?

Unlike the warnings that have been passed around, the FAQ is signed and
dated. I've included my email address, and the email addresses of
contributors, for verification. I've also provided online references at
the end of the FAQ so that you can confirm this information for yourself.

What is the Good Times virus hoax?

The story is that a virus called Good Times is being carried by email.
Just reading a message from someone named Good Times, or reading a message
with Good Times in the subject line, will erase your hard drive. Needless
to say, it's a hoax, but a lot of people believe it.

The original message ended with instructions to "Forward this to all your
friends," and many people did just that. Warnings about Good Times have
been widely distributed on mailing lists, Usenet newsgroups, and message

The original hoax started in early December, 1994. It sprang up again in
March of 1995. In mid-April, people began distributing a previously
obscure message, and added. Worried that Good Times would never go away, I
decided to write the FAQ and a separate report that chronicles the hoax's

What is the effect of the hoax?

For those who already know it's a hoax, it's a nuisance to read the
repeated warnings. For people who don't know any better, it causes
needless concern and lost productivity.

The virus hoax infects mailing lists, bulletin boards, and Usenet
newsgroups. Worried system administrators needlessly worry their employees
by posting dire warnings. The hoax is not limited to the United States. It
has appeared in many English-speaking countries.

As Adam J Kightley ( put it, "The cases of
'infection' I came across all tended to result from the message getting
into the hands of senior non-computing personnel. Those with the ability
and authority to spread it widely, without the knowledge to spot its
nonsensical content."

Some of the companies that have fallen for the hoax include AT&T,
CitiBank, NBC, Hughes Aircraft, Texas Instruments, and dozens or hundreds
of others.

Good Times has made its way around Washington, D.C. Some of the government
agencies that have reportedly fallen victim to the hoax include the
Department of Defense, the FCC, NASA, and numerous colleges.

The virus hoax has occasionally escaped into the popular media. reports that on April 2, 1995, during the Tom
Sullivan show on KFBK 1530 AM radio in Sacramento, California, a police
officer warned listeners not to read email labeled "Good Times", and to
report the sender to the police. I've called Business Media Services
(916-453-8802) and ordered a tape of the show. .WAV at 11:00.

What did the original warning (Happy Chanukah) say?

This is the canonical original message as I received it, and as it was
quoted in the CIAC report. Like all quoted material in the FAQ, it
includes the original punctuation:

----Begin quoted material----

Here is some important information. Beware of a file called

Happy Chanukah everyone, and be careful out there.There is a virus on
America Online being sent by E-Mail. If you get anything called "Good
Times", DON'T read it or download it. It is a virus that will erase your
hard drive. Forward this to all your friends. It may help them a lot.

----End quoted material----

What's the other commonly-distributed warning (ASCII)?

The "happy Chanukah" greeting in the original message dates it, so more
recent hoax eruptions have used a different message. The one below can be
identified because it claims that simply loading Good Times into the
computer's ASCII buffer can activate the virus, so I call it ASCII.

Karyn Pichnarczyk remembers the ASCII message from the original hoax in
December of 1994, though I never saw it. Mikko Hypponen
( sent me a copy of this warning that dates
back to December 2, 1994. It's now the basis for the most common message

----Begin quoted material----

Thought you might like to know...

Apparently , a new computer virus has been engineered by a user of America
Online that is unparalleled in its destructive capability. Other, more
well-known viruses such as Stoned, Airwolf, and Michaelangelo pale in
comparison to the prospects of this newest creation by a warped mentality.

What makes this virus so terrifying is the fact that no program needs to
be exchanged for a new computer to be infected. It can be spread through
the existing e-mail systems of the InterNet.

Luckily, there is one sure means of detecting what is now known as the
"Good Times" virus. It always travels to new computers the same way - in
a text e-mail message with the subject line reading simply "Good Times".
Avoiding infection is easy once the file has been received - not reading
it. The act of loading the file into the mail server's ASCII buffer causes
the "Good Times" mainline program to initialize and execute.

The program is highly intelligent - it will send copies of itself to
everyone whose e-mail address is contained in a received-mail file or a
sent-mail file, if it can find one. It will then proceed to trash the
computer it is running on.

The bottom line here is - if you receive a file with the subject line
"Good TImes", delete it immediately! Do not read it! Rest assured that
whoever's name was on the "From:" line was surely struck by the virus.
Warn your friends and local system users of this newest threat to the
InterNet! It could save them a lot of time and money.

----End quoted material---

What's the popular variation on ASCII (Infinite Loop)?

Material is sometimes added to ASCII as it is forwarded and reforwarded.
One common variation mentions a (long since retracted) FCC report, and
claims that Good Times can destroy a computer's processor by placing the
processor in a "nth-complexity infinite binary loop," which is a
fancy-sounding piece of science fiction.

----Begin quoted material----

The FCC released a warning last Wednesday concerning a matter of major
importance to any regular user of the InterNet. Apparently, a new
computer virus has been engineered by a user of America Online that is
unparalleled in its destructive capability. Other, more well-known
viruses such as Stoned, Airwolf, and Michaelangelo pale in comparison to
the prospects of this newest creation by a warped mentality.

What makes this virus so terrifying, said the FCC, is the fact that no
program needs to be exchanged for a new computer to be infected. It can be
spread through the existing e-mail systems of the InterNet. Once a
computer is infected, one of several things can happen. If the computer
contains a hard drive, that will most likely be destroyed. If the program
is not stopped, the computer's processor will be placed in an
nth-complexity infinite binary loop - which can severely damage the
processor if left running that way too long. Unfortunately, most novice
computer users will not realize what is happening until it is far too

----End quoted material---

What was the CIAC bulletin?

On December 6, 1994, the U.S. Department of Energy's CIAC (Computer
Incident Advisory Capability) issued a bulletin declaring the Good Times
virus a hoax and an urban legend. The bulletin was widely quoted as an
antidote to the hoax. The original document can be found at the address in
Online References at the end of the FAQ.

----Begin quoted material----


In the early part of December, CIAC started to receive information
requests about a supposed "virus" which could be contracted via America
OnLine, simply by reading a message.

| Here is some important information. Beware of a file called Goodtimes. |
| |
| Happy Chanukah everyone, and be careful out there. There is a virus on |
| America Online being sent by E-Mail. If you get anything called "Good |
| Times", DON'T read it or download it. It is a virus that will erase your |
| hard drive. Forward this to all your friends. It may help them a lot. |

THIS IS A HOAX. Upon investigation, CIAC has determined that this message
originated from both a user of America Online and a student at a
university at approximately the same time, and it was meant to be a hoax.

CIAC has also seen other variations of this hoax, the main one is that any
electronic mail message with the subject line of "xxx-1" will infect your

This rumor has been spreading very widely. This spread is due mainly to
the fact that many people have seen a message with "Good Times" in the
header. They delete the message without reading it, thus believing that
they have saved themselves from being attacked. These first-hand reports
give a false sense of credibility to the alert message.

There has been one confirmation of a person who received a message with
"xxx-1" in the header, but an empty message body. Then, (in a panic,
because he had heard the alert), he checked his PC for viruses (the first
time he checked his machine in months) and found a pre-existing virus on
his machine. He incorrectly came to the conclusion that the E-mail message
gave him the virus (this particular virus could NOT POSSIBLY have spread
via an E-mail message). This person then spread his alert.

As of this date, there are no known viruses which can infect merely
through reading a mail message. For a virus to spread some program must
be executed. Reading a mail message does not execute the mail message.
Yes, Trojans have been found as executable attachments to mail messages,
the most notorious being the IBM VM Christmas Card Trojan of 1987, also
the TERM MODULE Worm (reference CIAC Bulletin B-7) and the GAME2 MODULE
Worm (CIAC Bulletin B-12). But this is not the case for this particular
"virus" alert.

If you encounter this message being distributed on any mailing lists,
simply ignore it or send a follow-up message stating that this is a false

Karyn Pichnarczyk

----End quoted material----

Exactly when did the hoax start?

December 2, 1994 is often quoted as the beginning of the hoax, but some of
the AOL forward message headers in the copy I received put the date at
December 1. One non-AOL header is dated November 29, though that date
could easily have been forged.

Also, notice the text of the original message as it was sent to me, and
quoted in the CIAC report:

Here is some important information. Beware of a file called

Happy Chanukah everyone, and be careful out there.There is a virus on
America Online being sent by E-Mail. If you get anything called "Good
Times", DON'T read it or download it. It is a virus that will erase your
hard drive. Forward this to all your friends. It may help them a lot.

The first paragraph suggests that someone was forwarding the information
in the second paragraph. A seasonal greeting like "Happy Chanukah" is
almost never placed in the second paragraph of a letter, suggesting even
more strongly that this message was repeating information from someone

Who started the hoax?

No one knows who started the original hoax. You'll meet people who think
they know who started it, or where it started. They are mis-informed. Show
them the FAQ. They're just repeating second hand information. The truth
is, no one knows who started Good Times. I discuss this further in my

Now that new outbreaks of the hoax have begun, it's not especially
important who starts the rumors. Even if you catch the latest hoaxster,
there will always be another one. We're better off spending our time
educating new Internet users, and distributing the FAQ whenever Good Times

How do you know all this stuff?

I investigated the original hoax in December of 1994. I'll disclose the
full details in my report.

When will your report be ready, Les?

Soon. I'm working on a complete history of the hoax. It promises to be
good reading. The report provides a detailed history of events and public
opinion. It also suggests a way to counter hoaxes and other thought
viruses, and recounts my discovery of the NVP Trojan horse. When it's
finished, it will be freely distributable, and will be available from my
ftp site at in the pub/lesjones directory.

Is an email virus possible?

No. There is no way for a virus to spread simply by reading email.

A few people have gone through mental gymnastics trying to dream up a way
such a thing could be done. The closest anyone has come is to infect a
program with a virus, encode the program into text with uuencode, binhex,
etc., and email the encoded program. The person receiving the email would
have to download the mail to their hard drive, decode it, and run the
infected program. That's not even close to the claims made for the spread
of Good Times.

You should, of course, be wary of any file attachments a stranger sends
you. At the least, you should check such file attachments for viruses
before running them.

How can I protect myself from viruses in general?

Use a virus checker regularly. Freeware, shareware, and commercial
anti-virus programs are widely available. Which program you use isn't as
important as how you use it. Most people get into trouble because they
never bother to check their computer for viruses.

Most viruses spread through floppy disks, so isolating yourself from
online services and the Internet will not protect you from viruses. In
fact, you're probably safer if you're online, simply because you'll have
access to anti-viral software and information.

What can I find anti-viral information on the Internet?

Usenet newsgroups

Mailing lists
VIRUS-L is for discussions of viruses and anti-viral products. Send email
to In the body of the message, include the line "sub
virus-l your-name" (without the quotes).

VALERT-L is for announcements of new viruses. Send email to In the body of the message, include the line "sub
valert-l your-name" (again, without the quotes).

FTP sites
_________ in pub/virus-l/docs/

Contains information about viruses and anti-virus products, with pointers
to other FTP sites.

Comp.virus FAQ on the World Wide Web

Was the hoax a sort of virus itself?

Yes, but it wasn't a computer virus. It was more like a social virus or a
thought virus.

When someone on alt.folklore.urban asked if the virus was for real, Clay
Shirky ( answered:

"Its for real. Its an opportunistic self-replicating email virus which
tricks its host into replicating it, sometimes adding as many as 200,000
copies at a go. It works by finding hosts with defective parsing apparatus
which prevents them from understanding that a piece of email which says
there is an email virus and then asking them to remail the message to all
their friends is the virus itself."

Shirky eloquently described what a lot of people were thinking. Good Times
was a virus, but not a computer virus, just as a computer virus was a
virus, but not a biological virus.

So what is a virus? To a biologist, a virus is a snippet of DNA that must
infect a host organism to survive and reproduce. To be contagious, a virus
usually carries instructions that cause the host to engage in certain
pathological activities (such as sneezing and coughing) that spread the
infection to other organisms.

To a computer programmer, a virus is a snippet of computer code that must
infect a host program to spread. To be contagious, a computer virus
usually causes the host program to engage in certain pathological
activities that spread the infection to other programs

From this perspective, it's easy to see the Good Times hoax as a sort of
thought virus. To be contagious, a thought virus causes the host to engage
in certain pathological activities that spread the infection.

In the case of Good Times, the original strain (happy Chanukah) explicitly
told people to "forward this to all your friends." The other major viral
strain (infinite loop) encourages people to "Please be careful and forward
this mail to anyone you care about," and "Warn your friends and local
system users of this newest threat to the InterNet!"

Likewise, the stories of an FCC modem tax encourage people to tell their
friends and post the warning on other BBSes. David Rhodes' Make Money Fast
scam instructs people to re-post the message to as many as ten bulletin

In _The Selfish Gene_ (1976, University of Oxford Press), Oxford
evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins extends the principles in his book
from biology to human culture. To make the transition, Dawkins proposes a
cultural replicator analogous to genes. He calls these replicators memes:

"Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways
of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves
in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperm or eggs, so memes
propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a
process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation. If a scientist
hears, or reads about, a good idea, he passes it on to his colleagues and
students. He mentions it in his articles and lectures. If the idea catches
on, it may be said to propagate itself, spreading from brain to brain. As
my colleague N. K. Humphrey neatly summed up an earlier draft of this
chapter: "...memes should be regarded as living structures, not just
metaphorically, but technically. When you plant a fertile meme in my mind
you literally parasitize my brain, turning it into a vehicle for the
meme's propagation in just the way that a virus may parasitize the genetic
mechanism of a host cell.""

Amazingly, when I read alt.folklore.computers looking for research
material, two people had already mentioned Dawkins' memes. One of them
referred to an article in the April 8, 1995 _New Scientist_ about
something called the Meme Research Group at the University of California,
San Francisco. The article noted that the group was reticent about
details, and didn't mention a person's name of phone number. I had no luck
it trying to locate the group via USF's operator assistance or computing
department, and I'm still waiting for someone to reply to my email.

I am not a memeticist, and a real memeticist might take umbrage at my
explanation of the concept. To learn more, I encourage you to visit the
alt.memetics newsgroup on Usenet, and the alt.memetics home page on the
World Wide Web ( Though we've
talked about memes in terms of viruses (a common analogy), the concept of
a meme is neither good nor bad. The idea of "Do unto others as you would
have them do unto you" is as much a meme as the Good Times hoax.

What's the best way to control a thought virus?

Create a counter virus like this one as an antidote. To make the counter
virus contagious, include instructions such as, "The Good Times email
virus is a hoax. If anyone repeats the hoax, please show them the FAQ."

What are some other hoaxes and urban legends on the Internet?

The FCC Modem Tax

Every so often someone posts a dire warning that the FCC is considering a
tax on modems and online services. The warning encourages you to tell your
friends so they can take political action. It's a hoax. It's been going on
for the five years I've been online, and probably much longer. If you'll
notice, the warnings don't include a date or a bill number.

Make Money Fast

If you haven't seen a Make Money Fast message, call your local
anthropology department. They might be interested in studying you. Devised
by David Rhodes in 1987 or 1988, Make Money Fast (sometimes distributed on
BBSes as a file called fastcash.txt) is an electronic version of a chain
letter pyramid scheme. You're supposed to send money to the ten people on
the list, then add your name to the list and repost the chain letter,
committing federal wire fraud in the process. Posting a Make Money Fast
message is one sure way to lose your Internet account.

Craig Shergold needs your get well cards

Craig Shergold is a UK resident who was dying of cancer. He wanted to get
in the Guinness Book of World Records for having received the most get
well cards. When people heard of the poor boy's wish, they began sending
him postcards. And they kept sending him postcards, and never stopped.
Shergold is now in full remission. He was listed in the Guinness Book of
World Records in 1991. He really does not want your postcards any more,
and neither does his hometown post office.

These are just the urban legends that you're likely to encounter on the
Internet. There are many more in real life that you probably believe. I
won't give them away, but here are some clues: peanut butter, Neiman
Marcus/Mrs. Fields, Rod Stewart, and the Newlywed Game. For more
information, read the alt.folklore.urban FAQ, listed in Online References
at the end of the FAQ.

Online References

CIAC Notes 94-04 and 94-05d
FTP to and look in the /pub/ciac/sectools/unix directory.

The URL is

The URL for the CIAC home page on the World Wide Web is:

alt.folklore.urban FAQ
Available via FTP from in the
/pub/cathouse/urban.legends/AFU.faq directory.

Also available on the World Wide Web at

America Online's official statement
keyword "virus2" on America Online

The Good Times Virus Hoax FAQ (this document)
FTP to and look in the pub/lesjones directory. The URL is:

-- | | AOL, Good Times and ZTerm FAQs |
Les Jones | | |

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