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Attacked By Facebook! Social Media Malware - How to Spot and Avoid It.

Jan 13, 2010 Ben Pfeiffer, Columnist | 0 Comments

You know not to download suspicious email attachments or click on suspicious links. But what happens when those emails come from a site you use every day—and that link was sent by a friend? Cyber-crime trends show that people are much more vulnerable to Malware and other scams when they come over social networking sites—sites where they can connect with people they know and trust.

You might feel safe on Facebook—but in fact you’re susceptible to many different types of scams. Scammers take advantage of the trusting relationships you have with your contacts to get you to click on links you think are from them—but in fact take you to sites that will download Malware and viruses to your computer. Other scams take advantage of the easy communications facilitated by social networking sites of all kinds to spread malicious code.

Here are a few examples of malicious scams that you’re likely to find on online networking sites—and how to avoid them.


Both Twitter and Baidu, China’s popular search engine, have been hijacked and defaced by the "Iranian Cyber Army."

Emails to “update your information”

Have you ever received an email from Facebook, MySpace or another social networking site asking you to update your information? If you did what the email said, you know it’s a scam.

These emails look like they come from a social networking site you use. When you click on a provided link, you’re sent to a page that looks a lot like the social networking site’s page. You’re asked to enter your user name and password—and then the scammers have it. From there, they can access your account to get personal information and to disseminate fraudulent links to your network of contacts.  A recent Facebook scam also prompted users to install a “Facebook Update Tool,” which turned out to be a password-stealing virus.

Facebook email

The links on your wall are often generic—something like “Hey, check out this link!” They can also be more personal, however; one such attack claimed the user’s picture was “all over” an unknown site.



Links on your wall 

Spammers will sometimes hijack the Facebook account of someone you know—and then post links on your wall under your friend’s name. The links will lead to scam sites that download Malware onto your computer. The “Koobface” virus was one recent large-scale attack that worked this way. The links on your wall are often generic—something like “Hey, check out this link!” They can also be more personal, however; one such attack claimed the user’s picture was “all over” an unknown site.

Scam notification links

Not all the links on your “notifications” window in Facebook lead to your wall or pictures where friends have left comments. Some scammers have found ways to leave links there that look like comments from friends, but in fact they redirect you to Malware sites.

“Rickrolling.” This term refers to a prank that arose sometime around 2007, where links presented as leading to relevant news or pictures actually led to an online video of Rick Astley singing “Never Gonna Give You Up.” Users who were fooled and clicked on the link were said to have been “Rickrolled.”

The term has evolved to refer to any online bait-and-switch where someone posts a link that’s supposed to lead to one place, but in fact leads to another. Malware distributors do this all the time—posting links on social networking, article distribution sites, news sites and blogs that are supposed to lead to relevant pictures, news articles and other content—but in fact lead to Malware sites.

This happens on Digg all the time—scammers will post comments on articles that are supposed to lead to relevant content, but actually lead to scam sites. It can also be seen in the comments section of YouTube videos and other social networking sites. Many of the scams on social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace fall under this category, where links will be posted—ostensibly from friends—that lead somewhere other than they should.


Facebook email

January 5, 2009, Fox News' Twitter account was hacked and used to make inflammatory remarks regarding Bill O'Riley.



Twitter hijacks

Scammers can also get into your Twitter account and post links through your Tweets, encouraging your followers to click on them and download Malware. These attacks are particularly troubling, because it’s not unusual for Twitter users to link their accounts to Facebook so that Tweets appear as Facebook updates automatically. If your accounts are connected this way, a scammer could post a fraudulent link on both your Twitter and Facebook pages.

Questionable blogs

This scam goes all the way to the top. is a social networking site allowing Barack Obama supporters to connect. Recently, numerous blogs were created on the site that showcase images that are labeled as YouTube videos—but actually take you to a site that downloads a Trojan virus onto your computer when you download what they say is required video software. Links to these blogs have been disseminated all over the web on forums and other blogs.

How Can You Avoid Social Media Scams?

Facebook email

Image © Mike Rohde

Never give away your personal information on your page

Don’t get too personal on your Facebook and MySpace page. Don’t list your phone number, address, places where you hang out, or other information. That info is not just available to your friends—it could be available to anyone who does a Google search on you, and also to scammers if they get hold of your password.

Use the maximum security levels

Don’t be lax on your social networking security. Many sites allow you to choose between several levels of security, and it’s a good idea to use the strictest security settings allowed.

Check the rumor mill

What are people saying about you online? Twitter allows you to check this easily—and it’s a good idea to, just to see if anyone’s making a comment about some questionable link you sent. You should also check what you’re saying yourself—you might find that there are updates on your page that you didn’t actually send. If you do, change your account password immediately.

Don’t use Twitter to update your Tweets

Third-party applications including EchoPhon on the iPhone, TweetDeck, Twhirl and Tweetie can give you protection from some viruses that gain access to your computer through your Twitter account.

Update your web browser regularly

Scammers are always on the alert for anyone using an older version of a browser—one with vulnerabilities they’ve developed ways to exploit. Be sure you’re using the most updated version of your Internet browser available, and check for updates regularly.

Don’t use an old password


It’s important to change your password on a regular basis. Many social networking scams happen when hackers get hold of a user’s password and distribute fraudulent links to their contacts. The more often you change your password, the less likely that scammers will be able to get into your account. It’s also crucial to make sure your password is difficult to hack: don’t use full words or numbers that are easily guessed, and don’t use the same password for multiple sites.

Update your antivirus software

This one seems obvious, but many people don’t think of it—until they’ve been the victim of an attack.

Update your own knowledge

It’s not enough to have the best software looking out for you, however. Keep yourself updated on the latest threats—so you’ll know not to click on that link or open that email. The more you know about online security threats that come from social media sites, the better you can protect yourself.



Microsoft Security Intelligence Report volume 7 (January through June 2009)


Also, please check out our Definitive Guide on Free Apps for Malware Removal article. This article is an excellent resource for finding free applications that will help you combat various types of malware.


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