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Beware of strangers (and friends) bearing gifts

by Neal O'Farrell on June 14th, 2010

If you’re a regular Facebook or Farmville user, you might have come across a message from your friends recently, warning that an offer of a “White gift box” circulating on Facebook is actually a virus and therefore you should not click on it.

Hundreds of thousands of FB users have apparently received such a warning and yet the security industry knows nothing about it. Except that they think it’s probably either a hoax or a case of mistaken identity. So far, security experts have not been able to find any malware connected to the white box message in circulation, and are speculating that it all boiled down to a case of mass hysteria.

Which brings up an interesting point. Should we rely on users and the public, who can often make mistakes, to spread warnings about online threats and therefore use the power of millions to keep our communities informed, alert, and safe?

Or should we leave such alerts to the experts, who can first verify if the threat is real before warning the world to batten down the hatches?

One of the problems that arises is user fatigue. If there are too many instances of fake viruses, users may just switch off, and either not share any future warnings or alerts or not pay any attention to warnings they receive.

A quandary.

Lessons learned?

• Before you share a warning about any security issue or threat, do a little research to make sure it’s not a hoax.

• If you receive such a warning, do the same – verify first – before you act on it or pass it to others.

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