Tipping Pitches: Technology: Don't Fear the Hackers


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Technology: Don't Fear the Hackers

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During the past day or so, I've seen a few variations of the following Facebook status floating around, as I'm sure you have:

WARNING!!!!! Go in to your PRIVACY settings and click block list, type in AUTOMATIC BLOCK in the spot marked PERSON, there's 3 names there DELETE them they're apparantly taking pictures of our kids off our fb and there meant to be peadophiles, They were on mine and prob on yours too. 3 FOREIGN NAMES block them 1 at a t......ime. PUT ......THIS ON... ......YOUR STATUS TELL YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS

As someone with a tech background, this raised immediate red flags. Bells ringing. Makes no sense whatsoever. Big time scam. Hoax (see Snopes.com).

But, I have to be honest with you. Once I try to look at it from the perspective of others, I understand why people fall for it. They prey on our weaknesses and our fears.
  • "WARNING!!!!!" and lots of CAPS: While I don't trust anything like this, it certainly grabs your attention. And if it's a warning from a close friend you trust, you listen.
  • Go in to your PRIVACY settings and click block list, type in AUTOMATIC BLOCK in the spot marked PERSON, there's 3 names there: This is actually brilliant. While the process makes no sense at all, it happens just as they say. You type in the words and some people come up you don't know (Note: If you type the words "Sex Offender" or "Criminal" or "Politician" or "Poopy Monkey" some names will come up that you don't recognize, too). So, they get your attention, give you directions to do something that works, and suddenly you feel violated.
  • DELETE them: You do it. Again, it makes no sense whatsoever, but you don't ask questions. You just follow the instructions of your friend. 
  • they're apparantly taking pictures of our kids off our fb and there meant to be peadophiles: Preying on parents who may not be completely comfortable with Facebook's new privacy settings. Emotion and fear again trump logic.
  • They were on mine and prob on yours too: It happened to your friend, it happened to you, so this has to be legit. Never mind that 1 + 1 = 473 in this case.
  • 3 FOREIGN NAMES: This is insulting to me, and should be to most. It's another aspect of the message that immediately made me question the validity. Three foreign names come up, so we are not supposed to trust them. We are supposed to be even more fearful because they are foreign. Again, this was carefully crafted. They included this intentionally to freak people out, and anything foreign -- rightly or not -- often strikes fear in Americans.
Let me commend Facebook for reacting quickly. They will not even allow you to post a similarly worded message. They will block it. Not only as a status, but in their instant messenger.

If we are lucky, this will be a lesson for all of us. We've seen several hoaxes like this in the past, and far too many people are willing to believe them. But, I compare this to 10 and 15 years ago when e-mail was still relatively new to most people. We'd all get inundated with forwards from people claiming that if we forwarded on the message, we'd get X dollars per person from Microsoft, or something similar.

Frankly, we've all been duped at some point. But most (though admittedly not all) of us have figured out the e-mail scams. Scammers still scam because a very small minority continue to fall for the tricks.

Facebook turned six years old today. A very large percentage of the user base has been using the service for two years or less. Because of its popularity, scams are becoming more and more popular.

Fear and misinformation spread fast.

The scams are successful in the same way that forwards were successful through e-mail. You see a message from someone you trust, and you believe it. You don't even think about it. When you finally figure it out, you feel pretty dumb. And you'll probably never make the mistake again.

I hope that's what's happening with Facebook. I hope that all we need is a few of these hoaxes so that people realize that all of these freaky scare statuses are fake. No, Facebook is not going to charge $4.99 a month starting in June.

However, there's something else happening here. Those who are duped may also recoil. Even if they realize that it was a hoax, they may subconsciously feel less and less comfortable using Facebook. Afraid of the "hackers" that don't exist, fearing their privacy and the privacy of their children, they may stop sharing photos or sharing themselves as they once did.

It's not completely rational, but I can understand why it could happen. And as it is, I've already seen people sharing less during the past year. I don't need hoaxes making it worse.

But this is the thing, and hang with me on this...  The people who started this hoax are trying to scare the crap out of you. They intentionally targeted your fears and your weaknesses, trying to change your use patterns, intending to scare you away from Facebook. The message wasn't really from your friend. It was from someone who is trying to make a fool of you.

Don't let them succeed. They're nerdy little dudes with nothing better to do. You can't let dudes like that scare you. Just be smart. You can trust your friends. But when someone copies and pastes anything, use your head. The worst thing you can do is perpetuate the fear by reposting it.

It's hard, I know. Your emotion tells you it's the right thing to post it. That it's better to be safe than sorry. But if it's a hoax, you're just doing more harm than good. When it's something this serious, think about it first. Do some investigation before you strike fear in your friends. Because if you post it, chances are that several of your friends will, too, and so on.

Microsoft isn't going to send you $1,000,000. Facebook isn't going to charge $4.99 per month. If you join this group, you will not get a free, no-strings-attached iPod Touch. And "peadophiles" with foreign names have not hacked Facebook to gawk at your kids' pictures.

Next time you see a message like this, bells should go off. Go to Snopes.com first, and encourage your friends to do the same.


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