The Dance of the Pope virus hoax

The Dance of the Pope virus hoax

A virus hoax appears to have had something of a resurgence in recent days, with users sharing with their online friends via social media and messaging apps.

The bogus warning claims that there is a “very dangerous” virus being spread via a video entitled “Dance of the Pope”, and that if you open the video file your mobile phone will be formatted and “nothing can fix it”.

Pope hoax

A typical warning being spread between folks reads as follows:

If you know anyone using WhatsApp you might pass on this. An IT colleague has advised that a video comes out tomorrow from WhatsApp called martinelli do not open it, it hacks your phone and nothing will fix it. Spread the word.

If you receive a message to update the Whatsapp to Whatsapp Gold, do not click !!!!!
Please inform all contacts from your list not to open a video called the “Dance of the Pope”. It is a virus that formats your mobile. Beware it is very dangerous. They announced it today on BBC radio. Fwd this msg to as many as you can!

There’s no mention of what mobile operating system (Android? iOS?) the malware runs on. There’s no link to the BBC News report which it is claimed warned about the virus.

Both of these clues should make you instantly suspicious about the warning’s legitimacy. But you should really have alarm bells when you are encouraged to “forward this message to as many as you can!”

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The virus warning is, of course, poppycock. Variations of the hoax, which mention WhatsApp Gold and “Martinelli”, have been circulating since at least 2015 and yet you won’t find any genuine warnings about any “Dance of the Pope” malware on any legitimate IT security websites.

All you will find are warnings not to share virus hoaxes with your friends.

Virus hoaxes like this have been spreading for decades, and don’t seem to die out. People think they’re being helpful mindlessly forwarding the warnings to their friends rather than spending five minutes checking their facts.

As this “Dance of the Pope” warning is clearly nonsense, you shouldn’t forward it onto your chums.

Just delete it, and tell whoever sent it to you to get a clue.

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

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