Facebook issued a video warning to its hundreds of millions of users on Thursday about the dangers of adware programs that lure users with promises of special features.
In a video message from the Facebook Security group, the company said that a growing number of companies are fooling Facebook users into installing add-on software that can cover their Facebook account with adds, result in slower site performance and compromise user security.
The warnings come as online advertisers are looking for ways to capitalize on the Facebook platform and the hours each day that avid users can spend on the giant social network.
In a phenomenon that seems a throwback to the go-go days of the Web, Facebook users are now complaining to the company about their page and Timeline being overrun with noisy, distracting ads that also bog down site performance.
The adware programs may be promoted on the Walls and timelines of Facebook users, but are not part of the site. Instead, most are bundled with browser plugins and toolbars that must be installed on the user’s Web browser.
In a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) post on the adware problem, Facebook Security warned that sanctioned Facebook ads will never appear as banners, in the center, top or left column of the Facebook Web site. “If you’re seeing ads in these locations, or ads that flash or play sound automatically, you probably have adware,” the company said.
Facebook has posted a list of around a dozen known adware programs that are specific to the site, including applications with names like Facetheme.com, Pagerage.com and Pagemood.com. It also provided written and video instructions for removing adware by disabling the browser plugins, toolbars or add-ons.
Online scammers are gravitating to Facebook because of the relatively high levels of user engagement on the site. As with traditional, Web based attacks, scammers use interest in major news events (like the death of Osama bin Laden) to seed links to phishing, click fraud and malware sites. But they’re also using Facebook’s real estate to direct users to survey Web sites and other for-profit ventures.
In August, 2011, security firm Websense studied two Facebook scams and found that both achieved enormous penetration on the site. According to Websense, a July, 2011 scam based on malicious Wall posts took just over a week to hit peak numbers while a second in August took only two days, with upwards of 1700 Facebook users interacted with the scams every few seconds during each campaigns’ peak days.
In the August scam documented by Websense, malicious links posted on a users Facebook Wall with suggestive titles pointed users to a scam survey. Using an estimated average of 130 Facebook friends per user, Websense calculated that the survey may have reached over 800,000 people at its peak. A Web site associated with the scam saw roughly 1,267,200 visitors.