Facebook's 120 million users are trembling with fear tonight as they face the vicious, predatory depravations of the destructive new virus known only as... Koobface.
Koobface is actually just the latest piece of malicious software that takes advantage of the feeling of security engendered by members-only social networks like Facebook. "A few other viruses have tried to use Facebook in similar ways to propagate themselves," Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt told MSNBC, adding that a "very small percentage of users" had been affected by these viruses.
But that rate will likely grow in the future, according to McAfee researcher Craig Schmugar, who said viruses like Koobface are "on the rise, relative to other threats like emails." Part of the reason for that can actually be traced back to Facebook's security, which requires everyone who uses the system to be a member and blocks data from being accessed by those who aren't. That "members only" approach leads to a false sense of security and a less scrutinous approach to messages they receive. "People tend to let their guard down," said Chris Boyd of FaceTime Security Labs. "They think you've got to log in with an account, so there is no way that worms and other viruses could infect them."
Koobface works by sending notes to Facebook friends of people with infected computers, with subjects like, "You look just awesome in this new movie." Recipients are then directed to a website, where they are told to download what is claimed to be an update of the Adobe Flash player, but - surprise! - is actually a file that infects the computer with Koobface, which then redirects users to contaminated sites when they try to access search engines like Google, Yahoo, MSN and Live.com. Ultimately, the software attempts to gather credit card numbers and other "sensitive information."
Schmugar said McAfee hasn't yet figured out who is responsible for the virus, but said the software is continually being improved in order to stay ahead of security at Facebook and MySpace. "The people behind it are updating it, refining it, adding new functionalities," he said. Facebook has posted instructions for cleaning infected computers at facebook.com/security, although that help was either too late or too inconvenient for RLM Public Relations CEO Richard Larmer, who threw out his PC after it became infected with the virus. "It was really bad," he said. "It destroyed my computer."
It amazes me that people still fall for this stuff. Admittedly, the typical computer user of today may not be as savvy in the ways of technology as they were 25 years ago when this stuff was still largely the domain of tech nerds, but look at it this way: If you woke up one morning, wandered out to the kitchen and noticed a bottle sitting on your counter labeled "Drink Me," would you?