How gullible are you?

Filed Under: Facebook, Social networks

Consider the following claims:

1. In the Privacy Settings interface in Facebook, there is a search facility to make it easy to find people and groups you wish to block.

2. A Facebook group called Automation Labs consists of people with access to your Facebook account and profile.

Claim (1) is true. Facebook does have a search facility in its "Block people" interface, and this is a helpful and useful feature. Claim (2) is an unfounded allegation that any reasonable person would refuse to accept. It sounds bogus, and it is.

Now put these two claims together, like this:

All FB friends. This is important. Do this asap! Go to settings. Click on privacy settings. Click on block users. in the name box enter 'automation labs'. A list of approx 20 people you dont even know will come up. Block each one individually. These people have access to your facebook account/profile and spy on what You do!

Now you have the perfect Facebook chain letter: you persuade Facebook users to verify claim (1) by performing a "Block people" search, but using the very group you are libelling in claim (2). And guess what? Many of those users are taking this as some sort of proof that claim (2) is true. This chain letter is spreading fast.

Earth to Facebook users! Earth to Facebook users! If this conclusion were logical, then anyone you could locate via the "Block people" search would need to be blocked. And that means that everyone should be blocked, which means that you should stop using Facebook altogether. (As it happens, that might not be such a bad thing for the rest of us on Facebook.)

No wonder that 61% of businesses we surveyed for the Sophos Security Threat Report 2010 said, "Facebook" when we asked, "Which social network do you think poses the biggest risk to security?"

The openness of the internet and of social networking sites is supposed to liberate you from the pressure of conformity, not to make it easier for miscreants or cybercriminals to persuade you blindly to follow orders.

Make sure brain is in gear before engaging mouse!

(If you need to advise friends and family, try Graham Cluley's short video below. It takes a slightly more didactic and conciliatory approach to the issue of internet gullibility.)

(Enjoy this video? You can check out more on the SophosLabs YouTube channel and subscribe if you like)

Image of Sydney Harbour Bridge by Adam J.W.C, 2009.

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About the author

Paul Ducklin is a passionate security proselytiser. (That's like an evangelist, but more so!) He lives and breathes computer security, and would be happy for you to do so, too. Paul won the inaugural AusCERT Director's Award for Individual Excellence in Computer Security in 2009. Follow him on Twitter: @duckblog