NEW DELHI: If you spend a better part of your life living out of Facebook, rejoice. Facebook won't be closing on March 15 after all. Surprised? Read on ...
More than one million people have already fallen for a hoax that claims that the popular social networking site will be shutting down on March 15.
According to IT security firm Sophos, a bogus news story published by the "Weekly World News", said Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg had told reporters that "managing [Facebook] has ruined my life. I need to put an end to all the madness."
Some panic-stricken Facebook users and mischief-mongers spread the story far and wide across the internet in no time. Although Facebook debunked the hoax via its Twitter account late on Sunday, users still continue to pass the bogus messages onto their online friends.
The "Weekly World News" article went on to quote another company official, Avrat Humarthi, vice-president of technical affairs at Facebook, as saying "After March 15th the whole website shuts down. So if you ever want to see your pictures again, I recommend you take them off the internet. You won't be able to get them back once Facebook goes out of business."
Sophos said that many people would not believe the report, which comes from a newspaper that has previously reported George Clooney is running for president and that alien spacecrafts will visit earth in 2011. However, it only takes only a small number of people to think it might be possible to turn a joke of a news story into an internet hoax as has been proved many a times in the past few years.
"I certainly wouldn't disagree that users would be wise to have their own backup of their photographs, rather than rely on Facebook -- but it's nothing more than a scare to suggest to people that they have to do it before March15th because Facebook is going to close down," explained Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos.
"There's an important lesson here -- don't believe everything you read on the internet, and think twice before you pass a story on to your friends."
Although a hoax is not as serious as malware worming its way between users and stealing information, it's still a nuisance, clogging up communications, increasing the overall level of spam and perhaps leading people to make decisions for the wrong reasons.
A number of Facebook users had earlier last week reported fallen prey to another viral scam -- My 1st St@atus -- which was designed to earn revenue for its perpetrators. Messages claiming to share the users' first ever Facebook status updates were being posted on users' walls by a rogue application.
Typical posts read -- "My 1st St@tus was: '[random message]'. This was posted on [random date]. Find your 1st St@tus @ [LINK]". When users clicked on this link, which appeared to have been posted by a Facebook friend, they were taken to a rogue Facebook application.
This application would then ask users to give it permission to access their profile. This would give the rogue application the ability to post the same message from the affected account to all in the friends' list. Users were also taken to a webpage which contained a survey.
Those behind such scams make commission from the number of people completing this survey and in some cases, Facebook users might also be asked for their mobile phone numbers in order to sign them up for an expensive, premium-rate service.
"Sadly, many people are all too quick to give permission to rogue applications like this, giving the bad guys free reign of their Facebook account," said Cluley.
"If users allow these applications to access their profiles, they may well find that the application has posted a message on their Facebook page, which is visible to all of their online friends, helping to spread the scam further. I deliberately infected a test account with this application, and it didn't even get my first status or the date correct! Unfortunately, by the time users realised this, they might have already helped the scammers by spreading the message across their network," he added.
Facebook users who have been affected should delete references to this scam from their wall, to avoid sharing it further with their online friends.