So while procrastinating when you should be studying (as usual), you are perusing Facebook when a girl you almost never speak to—in fact, you can’t even think of a good reason why you’re Facebook friends—messages you. Sounding desperate, she begins to explain that she is studying abroad in England and was just mugged at gunpoint. “Can you mail me about 500 dollars? Please please please I am freaking out.” Woah. Hold on. You do not know this girl; how could she expect you to mail her more cash than you have ever held in your hand? Don’t worry, she doesn’t really: it is because her Facebook account has been hacked. (And true story, by the way).
Where Do Facebook Viruses Come From?
A virus means something foreign has infiltrated your computer software. According to Steve Nyberg, a Certified Information Systems Security Professional for Cisco Systems, viruses do not come from “any single group sitting out there in a room giggling to each other, there are actually countless numbers of super talented people who write software programs and there is a huge market for people to develop malicious code.” Facebook and other online social networks are ideal sites for hackers because personal information is readily available within your account, such as your first and last name, hometown, school, and even cell phone number. Hackers also know many people use the same password for multiple online sites. Operators of these viruses have the potential to use this information to steal your identity, allowing them to spend money or commit crimes in your name. The problem with Facebook is that each user has a false sense of security and trust in things sent by “friends.”
So how can you learn to recognize a Facebook virus? Here is a breakdown of the nasty bugs that are currently threatening social networking sites, and how to protect yourself from them so your crush isn’t left thinking you just finished “the world’s greatest colonics treatment” and your online identity is safe:
Money Transfer Scams
What it looks like: Someone tells you, either via Facebook chat, message, or email, that they are stranded in a foreign country and need money. Coined the “Nigerian 419” virus because many victims claim to be alone in Nigeria, the virus hacks your personal information listed on your profile in order to make it seem like he or she is actually your friend and to make the plea more convincing.
How to avoid it: According to the Federal Trade Commission’s website, money transfer scams are successful because money wired to another country can be picked up at multiple locations, making the hacker almost impossible to identify or trace. NEVER send money in the mail without contacting the person in a secure form outside of the social networking site. If this is not possible, PCWorld recommends asking a very personal question that is not listed on your profile and only the real person would know. If you believe your account has the 419 Virus, follow these steps:
- In the Search box on your Facebook, type in “Facebook Security”
- Click on the page “Facebook Security”. Select the “Threats” tab
- Under “Money Transfer Scams” click on the “contact us” highlighted link, which will take you to a form for the 419 Scam
- Once completed, your account may be cancelled depending on the level of infiltration.
The Koobface Worm
What it looks like: Either a post on your wall, a message in your inbox, or a message in Facebook chat from a “friend” that tells you to click on a link to check out a video or a photo. The messages are enticing, saying something like “I just saw this hilarious video of you dancing! Your face is so red. You have to check it out!” Then, once you click on the link, it takes you to a site that tells you in order to view the photo or video you have to update your software. So you install the update because you oh-so-desperately need to see how red your face is, and the Koobface virus is uploaded into your Facebook profile, sending messages and posting on your friends’ walls the exact same message you were tricked by.
How to avoid it: If you think about it, a friend—or at least a good friend—would never open a conversation with a borderline-mean comment about how ridiculous you look somewhere on the Internet, and would usually start the conversation with “How have you been,” or at least “Hey.” Furthermore, you will never need to update your software in order to watch a video on YouTube or to view a photo. NEVER update software from a redirected site on the Internet; instead, go to your browser’s website and update it from there. If you already have it, follow these steps listed on eHow.
What it looks like: A friend recommends downloading an application, most commonly the “Error Check System” application or the “Profileye” application. The Error Check System supposedly alerts you that someone has had trouble viewing your profile and provides a “link” to view the error report. Profileye is the most tempting to download, explaining that someone has recently viewed your profile and that if you download an application you will be able to track all of the users who view your profile. After downloading the app, you give hackers access to your personal information, such as your friend lists, passwords, and privacy settings on your profile, allowing them to (unbeknownst to you) send fake messages and suggestions to all of your friends.
How to Avoid it: The applications appear to be completely legit, with the correct format, font, and style of previously recommended applications, and it is predicted the fake apps will continue to become more convincing because Facebook currently allows any user to write an application. If you have already downloaded one of these fake applications, follow these steps:
- Click “Applications” in the bottom left-hand corner.
- Click “Edit” in the top right-hand corner of the App menu.
- Locate the application and click the “X” next to its name, and then click remove.
What it looks like: A friend posts a link on your wall that suggests you try a really great product or service that has “changed his or her life”. The most common scams are diet tricks such as Acai berry shakes and colon cleanses, and working online at home by posting links on Google. Matt Downey, a junior at Bowdoin College, experienced this virus and his Facebook account involuntarily posted links for both of these services on his friends’ walls. Matt knows he never clicked on a link that could have given him the virus, and he is positive his password was not easy to guess (for example, not something like abcdefg).
How to avoid it: You know that a normal person does not alert the whole world that a colon cleanse changed his or her life, so however tempting it may be, do not click on it! Matt says, “I changed my password a couple times and it stopped within a day or two,” which is the best security one can have with such an unpredictable and chaotic virus. Make your status something that will let everyone know you have a virus and to not click on the links. According to a recent New York Times article, the hackers are attempting to “profit from the referral fees they get for directing people to sketchy e-commerce sites.”
Basic Tips About Facebook Viruses:
- Reset your password to something that is not obvious (once again, avoid the “abcdefg” route) and continue to change it about once a month.
- While the majority of these viruses attack PCs before Mac computers, if you click on the link your account is just as prone to attack as the next guy—so avoid temptation!
- Frequently run FREE security updates and virus scans: click here for Macs and here for Microsoft computers.
- Log out every time you are finished using Facebook rather than simply closing out the window. According to Nyberg, the longer a page is open the easier it is for hackers to trace your password, so make sure you do not leave the window open while you are away.
- Become a fan of the “Facebook Security” page, which provides daily helpful status updates and tips.
- Avoid clicking on any links that end in .exe
By Joanna Buffum for Her Campus