Thousands of Facebook users are warning each other about a Christmas Tree virus said to be spreading in the form of a rogue application on the social network.
The only problem with this warning? It's utterly bogus.
Here's a typical message being shared widely on Facebook:
WARNING!!!!!!.....DO NOT USE THE Christmas tree app. on Facebookplease be advised it will crash your computer. Geek squad says its oneof the WORST trojan-viruses there is and it is spreading quickly.Re-post and let your friends know. THANKS PLEASE REPOST!
Users believe they're doing the right thing when they share warnings like this - but unfortunately they haven't checked their facts. Although anyone could at any time create a rogue application with the name "Christmas Tree" of course, we're not aware of any malware which uses this disguise.
Furthermore, since when was Geek Squad a reliable source for information about new malware? Wouldn't you be more sensible to check with an established anti-virus company? A legitimate warning would at the very least have included some links to further information - such as a statement on Geek Squad's website.
Ironically, the hoax is probably spreading much faster than any of the genuine commonly encountered Facebook viruses at the moment.
Please don't share virus warnings with your online friends until you have checked them with a credible source (such as an established computer security company). Malware can be killed off fairly easily, but misinformation like this can live on for months, if not years, because people believe they are "doing the right thing" by sharing the warning with their friends.
If you're a regular user of Facebook, be sure to join the Sophos page on Facebook to be kept informed of the latest security threats.
PS. Those of you very long in beard may recall that in the late 1980s there was a real virus called "Christmas Tree" (also known as "CHRISTMA EXEC"). It displayed a crude picture of a Christmas Tree using the ASCII character set, and infected computers on IBM's internal network and other systems.
However, as this was way back in 1987 I'm pretty confident that this hasn't inspired the latest scare on Facebook!