Facebook has acted to close down a series of fake accounts that were being used by computer criminals to target the site’s users.
According to Roger Thompson, chief research officer with antivirus company AVG Labs, a rising number of bogus profiles were being used to try and tempt the social network’s users into downloading viruses.
In a post on the AVG Labs blog, he explained how the fake accounts had appeared, with a request to download a video. If unsuspecting users clicked on the link, it downloaded a piece of malicious software to their computer.
“Clearly, the data snatchers have found a way to automate the creation of Facebook accounts,” Thompson wrote. “I’m sure Facebook will deactivate all these accounts as quickly as they find them, but it can’t be an easy thing for them to find.”
Facebook is believed to have started shutting down accounts, though it is not clear how many people have been affected.
The outbreak is a blow to the world’s largest social networking site, which has been targeted regularly by spammers and fraudsters but has managed to remain relatively unburdened by dangerous activity.
Unlike other social networks, which have fallen foul of criminals masquerading as ordinary users, Facebook has retained a reputation for security – in part because of the onerous nature of setting up a new account.
In recent weeks, however, the site has been hit with a number of attempted scams and attacks. In particular, it has witnessed an increase in so-called 419 scams, featuring criminals who pose as innocent individuals and request money from their victims.
The ruse is more often associated with email spam, but Facebook users have been targeted by messages from fraudsters requesting money – often using hacked accounts to pose as somebody’s friend, suggesting to their target that they are stranded in a foreign country and require cash.
Such attacks have happened in the past, but the frequency appears to have increased – leading Facebook to issue a warning earlier this week.
“While the total number of people who have been impacted is small, we take any threat to security seriously and are redoubling our efforts to combat the scam,” wrote Facebook engineer Alok Menghrajani on the company’s blog.
As well as offering users examples of 419 scams in action, he said that the company had also taken steps to react to the increase.
“On the technical side, we have improved a number of our automated systems to better handle this unique class of scam and are taking efforts to ensure that we adapt our response to the scam as it changes.”
Even the FBI has become involved, warning social network users yesterday day that there had been thousands of reports of accounts being hijacked and that 419 scams were on the rise again.
“Some of these messages appear to be sent from friends, giving the perception of legitimacy,” the agency said.