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Coordinated Facebook spam attack raises eyebrows, alienates users

It was the shot heard round the social media world: This week, a Facebook spam attack resulted in pornographic and violent images showing up on users’ news feeds. Facebook has always prided itself on avoiding such attacks, and this was a big one. There are predictions that the site will lose some of its more prudish users because of the attack, which could hurt the social media juggernaut’s business model.

During the “coordinated spam attack,” users were tricked into pasting and executing malicious JavaScript in their browser URL bar, causing them to share the content, according to a Facebook statement. Facebook is now in the process of identifying those responsible for the spam attack, has built security measures to shut down the malicious pages, and is working to educate users on how to protect themselves from similar spam attacks.

But who should really be held responsible for the Facebook spam attack? Do people using Facebook really not realize that they should avoid copying and pasting a suspicious-looking link from an unknown source into their browsers? I know a gift certificate to a themed chain restaurant is enticing, but come on. Facebook says it’s providing users with “educational checkpoints” to protect themselves. Is one of these points “Don’t be stupid?”

I think Helen A.S. Popkin said it best in the Technolog blog: “Viral scams persist on Facebook because Facebook users continue to click malicious links.” A study this week by the National Cyber Security Alliance and McAfee found that of 2,337 U.S. adults surveyed, 24% are not confident at all in their ability to use privacy and security account settings in their social networks. Another 15% of respondents have never checked their social networking privacy and security account settings and only 18% said the last time they checked their settings was in the last year.

These findings are just an example of the disconnect between the threats to everyday Internet users and what these users consider “safe and secure” Internet use. As more incidences like the Facebook spam attack occur, companies will no doubt try to comply with consumer protection rules and establish their own policies to protect customers. But perhaps users need to do a little more to protect themselves as well.

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