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15 technology myths: what's nonsense and what's not?

Macs are safe from malware. Fact. Or not...

The tech world abounds with hype, rumour and innuendo. It can be hard to tell IT fact from fantasy fiction. Fortunately, PC Advisor has rounded-up 15 technological rumours and given them a thorough shake down, so you can tell what's nonsense, and what's not.

We hate to break it to you, but Bill Gates is not going to give you money just for forwarding an email. Eating Pop Rocks and drinking fizzy pop at the same time won't cause your head to explode (although we don't recommend mixing Polos and Diet Coke). The Harry Potter books are not a secret plot to promote witchcraft and satanism. And that story about Richard Gere and his pets? We don't even want to go there.

These are, of course, urban legends that have been circulating on and off the internet for ages. But they're not the only misconceptions out there. Many intelligent, experienced computer users believe things about technology that simply aren't true.

We came up with 15 common myths in the tech world and did some digging to reveal the real story. Some rumours are wholly false. Others turned out to have more than a grain of truth in them.

To give you a sense of how real these myths are, we've created a little 1 to 5 scale with 5 being total nonsense and 1 signifying that the rumour is true.

We hope this research will make you a little wiser when you encounter future tales of technology - whether they're fact, fiction or something in between.

Myth 1: If you download files from a peer-to-peer network, the MPAA or RIAA will know who you are.

Nonsense meter: 2.5 out of 5

It all sounds like George Orwell's 1984: "If you are downloading movies, television shows, music or video games using a P2P network, the files that you have downloaded can be traced back to your IP address," says MPAA spokesperson Elizabeth Kaltman.

But BayTSP, which keeps watch on file-sharing networks such as BitTorrent and eDonkey, is a tad less self-assured. When the company monitors these services for various clients, it can indeed capture a file swapper's IP address, the date and time of the download, the name of the file, and information on the individual's internet service provider - but only for large downloads.

"If the file is big enough - a movie or software application (as opposed to a single song) - it is highly likely that BayTSP can identify an individual before that person has completed the entire file download," says Jim Graham, spokesperson for BayTSP.

"Not 100 percent likely, but pretty close. We never claim to have complete insight into every downloader."

Connecting an IP address to an actual name or physical address isn't a sure thing either. Typically, attorneys for the record and movie industries approach ISPs or universities with evidence of alleged copyright infringements.

It is up to that organisation to identify its customers based on their IP address - and not all of them comply.

There are other challenges as well. Peter Eckersley, staff technologist for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says that using anonymous IP networks, anonymizing proxies (sites or servers that let you keep your IP address hidden while surfing the web), or open Wi-Fi connections can make it much harder to trace your identity.

Note, though, that using a dynamic IP address via DHCP will not protect you. ISPs keep track of who was using a certain IP address at a particular time, and if they're willing to cough up that information, you could be done for.

Get the latest security news here

Myth 2: Using third-party ink in your printer voids the warranty.

Nonsense meter: 5.0 out of 5

This one has bogus written all over it - in any kind of ink.

According to Canon, Epson and Lexmark, using another company's ink cartridge or refills does not automatically invalidate your warranty. (However, PC Advisor tests have shown that using third-party inks may not yield the best results.)

The exception to this rule is if the ink itself causes a problem with the printer. Epson spokesperson Cheryl Taylor likens it to the 50,000-mile warranty on your new radial tires.

"Your car tire has a warranty on its tread life," she says. "If the tread wears out before it's supposed to, it's covered by the warranty. If you go out and slash your tire, well, something's wrong with your tire, but that's not damage covered by the warranty."

Latest digital photography and printing news here

Myth 3: If you type a URL into your browser, you're safe from phishing attacks.

Nonsense meter: 3.0 out of 5

The surest route to having your identity stolen is to click a link inside a phishing email and naively hand over your personal information. But typing www.yourbank.com into a browser is no guarantee that you'll foil the phishers.

There are at least two dangers still lurking, says Dave Jevans, chairman of the Anti-Phishing Working Group.

The first is "pharming" or "domain name poisoning" attacks, which intercept legitimate URLs en route to their destination and redirect the requests to bogus sites.

So far, a handful of pharming attacks have struck domain name servers on the internet, including one in February that targeted the websites of at least 50 financial institutions.

Jevans says the only defence against pharming is to type or bookmark the address of the site's secure log-on page (it should begin with https:), since pharming attacks tend to target the top-level page of financial sites. However, you also should be on the lookout for warnings from your browser that the page's security certificate is invalid, in case the pharming attack has gone deeper.

The second danger is malware, which can achieve the same effect as phishing by rewriting your PC's Hosts file or otherwise hijacking your browser. But there are ways to protect yourself from that threat, says Fred Felman, chief marketing officer for MarkMonitor, which provides brand and fraud protection for top firms.

According to Felman, if you keep your system patched, your firewall running, and your spyware and virus scanners up to date, you'll greatly reduce the odds of becoming yet another victim. Programs such as the free Spybot Search & Destroy or WinPatrol can help protect your Hosts file.

Get the latest security news here


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