There have never been more warnings about Facebook scams and social engineering attacks and yet millions of its users are falling for them in seemingly ever-greater numbers. Why?
According to security firm BitDefender, which has spent two years studying an extraordinary 850,000 attacks, their success is largely based on five irresistible ‘baits’ or lures that exploit human traits such as curiosity and fear as much as simple gullibility.
At the top of the list, accounting for 45.5 percent of scams, was the ‘guess who viewed your profile’ lure, which at first sounds like precisely the sort of attack an enthusiastic Facebook user would fall for. Which social networking enthusiast doesn’t want to know who has been checking them out?
According to BitDefender’s study, this technique also plays on the human dislike of having important information hidden. “Users have to almost believe the link hides something important to them,” said the researchers.
Rationally, it sounds suspicious, but the sense that social networks are gigantic repositories of hidden truth proves overwhelming for some although it probably helps that these attacks are sometimes customised, mentioning the target person by name.
The second biggie (29.5 percent) are offers of non-existent or bogus Facebook features, mostly add-on services that will embellish or uprate people’s profiles (except they don’t of course).
Completing the list were scams at 16.5 percent, celebrity lures on 7.5 percent and atrocity videos 0.9 percent, all playing on different elements of human psychology from naivety (the Internet is a conduit for cheap and free things), impulsiveness (what is David Duchovny up to these days) and grim rubbernecking, the last a growing category.
“Though still a niche category, atrocity videos are gaining popularity on Facebook,” commented BitDefender chief security strategist, Catalin Cosoi.
“Like and share schemes using horrendous images, such as maimed animals, suffering children, and tortured women, now account for almost 1 percent of all scams.
BitDefender doesn’t mention it but there is also a roaring trade in links to bizarre human deformities, strange alien diseases, the overwhelming majority of which are set up using images created in Photoshop. The use of images is one connection that many of the attack have in common – if people can see it they seem to be more likely to believe it.
In every case, the end result is usually malware or an account takeover of some sort.
BitDefender indulges in a bit of pop psychology – why do these scams work so well despite the numerous warnings? Perhaps the more apposite question is why Facebook has allowed itself to become so overwhelmed by these scams. The firm has had a number of crackdowns and yet admits that somewhere between 5 and 15 million accounts are used to spew spam and malware links.
It sometimes seems as if Facebook’s supernatural algorithms can connect people on the merest whiff of a common friend from thirty years ago or a shared workplace and yet to can’t spot completely fictitious accounts from running amock.
Perhaps more people should take former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's advice and stick to face-to-face meetings to solve their problems.
"How do we maintain relationships when literally with a nanosecond of attention, you can be communicating with anybody around the world? But that's not necessarily relationship building," she was reported as saying at Salesforce conference in October.