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News

Friend Suggestion Hoax Causes Panic On Facebook

Sophos : 17 May, 2010  (Technical Article)
New friend notification system on social networking site generates virus scare as hoax messages warning of viruses floods Facebook
IT security and data protection firm Sophos is urging Facebook users not to panic, after alerts were posted by thousands of users warning of a new virus sending out large numbers of friend suggestions.

The warnings have gained momentum in recent days, against a backdrop of increased concern and high profile media reports about privacy and security controversies on Facebook.

However, Sophos advises, there is no evidence that the multiple friend suggestions (some people report having received over 500) are due to a computer virus infection.

'This security scare is spreading like petrol on fire at the moment across the Facebook network, frightening people that their computers might have been compromised by hackers just when there are many headlines questioning how well Facebook protects its users,' said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos. 'Rumours of a virus can propagate at breathtaking speeds on social networks, and can be hard to stamp out. Just one person who has been left in the dark about the facts can kick start them again.'

Cluley explains that Facebook has changed the way in which handles friend suggestions, now sending notifications to both the person you're suggesting a friend to and also the suggested friend too.

'Imagine that you are Tom, and you think that your friend Dick should become Facebook friends with Harry. You visit Dick's Facebook profile, scroll down to where it says 'Suggest friends for Dick' and choose Harry's name. Your suggestion that Dick should become friends with Harry doesn't just go to Dick, but it will also now go to Harry as well,' explained Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos on his blog. 'Presumably Facebook has made this change in order to encourage more users to interconnect.'

Furthermore, Facebook can automatically suggest friends based upon many factors, including shared networks, work and education information and friends imported using Friend Finder.

'Put simply Facebook can send friend suggestions to other users based upon email addresses that you may have imported into the site from your email address book,' continued Cluley. 'What many people do not realise is that even if you didn't add everyone you imported from your address book as a Facebook friend, Facebook remembers the contacts you imported from Outlook, Gmail, Hotmail, etc and can use them to make future recommendations.'

Sophos has published more information - including screenshots - about the scare and how concerned users can change their privacy options to reduce their exposure to friend suggestions and remove their contacts from Facebook's suggestions system

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