Posted by: David Harley | November 9, 2011

Facebook: Heartfelt Sympathy

In my most recent blog for ESET, I’ve expanded on the theme of IT support scams, about which I’ve been obsessing in the context of cold-calling scam calls – “We’re calling to let you know you have a virus so that we can charge you to remove it remotely” – for quite a while.

Facebook Likes and cold-call scams is based on some collaborative research with Martijn Grooten of Virus Bulletin and Steve Burn, whose work in this area I’ve mentioned here before. On this occasion, we’ve focused on some of the flaky marketing techniques we’ve seen used to give credibility to IT support sites, though it’s clear from our research that such sites are indeed associated with the cold-call scammers.

However, Facebook is misused in many other contexts: I see that Graham Cluley has picked up the issue I blogged about here a few weeks ago, concerning claims that sharing pictures or hoax messages will enable a child with heart problems to receive a free heart transplant. As I previously commented, sympathy hoaxes (like other hoaxes) are alive and well and evolving nicely following their own transplant from email to Facebook.

While I was writing this, I was suddenly reminded (yes, I know this sounds pretentious, but it happens to be true!) of a poem by E.E. Cummings: “of all the blessings which to man“. While it sounds a little twisted to use references to “the animal without a heart” in this context, I was actually thinking that Cummings’ references to machines as “huge … collective pseudobeast” might tell us something quite significant about the collective consciousness we call the Internet (or the Web):

Without a heart the animal
is very very kind
so kind it wouldn’t like a soul
and couldn’t use a mind

David Harley CITP FBCS CISSP
Small Blue-Green World
ESET Senior Research Fellow

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