Who's Your Stalker? Facebook Scam Makes a New Appearance

stalker facebook scamFacebook has quickly become scam central, and with as many as 600 million users it's easy to understand why criminals are attacking The Social Network in earnest. Scams come and go with the headlines, but lately to resurface is the Stalker app, which tries to tempt a click with a variation on an invitation to "See Who Your Stalkers Are!"

Great bait. As far as the deadly sins go, there's an appeal to lust (porneia in Greek), if you're single and using The Social Network to hook up. There's an appeal to vanity (vana gloria in Latin, which sounds better), as there is on other networking sites such as LinkedIn, where access to who is looking you up is sold at a premium. Maybe some recruiter is running you through a keyword check, after all. There's an appeal to wrath, since you may actually have a troublesome ex or a current in porneia's grip who really is stalking you, a common enough occurrence apparently that Virgin Mobile invokes it to sell cell service.There's also shock appeal: You're temporarily astounded Facebook might advertise such a feature and refer to it in terms of stalking -- no fun if you're the victim, for sure, and the one that lured me in. Yes, I fell for it up to the point I saw a screen that resembled the trigger point in the Serene Branson video scam a few weeks ago. The message appeared to come from a member of my family, so my guard was down. Fortunately, I stopped short of the main trigger page, otherwise I would have given the rogue application permission to access my personal information and addresses, sending each of my friends a copy of the bogus message.

Of course it's not a Facebook tool, or a legitimate application. It's a fast-flux survey scam, a relative of the same genre appearing on The Social Network for some time, though with a new twist pointed out by Symantec. Using similar fast-flux techniques to botnets -- which harness the power of thousands of computers to attack, for example, banks and the like -- the link to the scam site is different each time. The user goes to a "redirector site" that uses a program to select randomly from a list of other sites actively running the scam. That makes it very hard to track and shut down, therefore giving the con a potentially endlessly recursive life.

ICANN, the non-profit corporation that administers the domain name system (.com, .net, .org, and possibly soon gazillions more), put together a study group on fast-flux three years ago, made up primarily of people who make money off domain registrations, or manipulating them. They concluded a year later, not surprisingly, the issue needed more study, that they couldn't agree on whether fast-flux was "within ICANN's scope" (code, basically, for "we don't want to deal with that because one of us will lose money,") generated a 150-plus page report and, to date have done little else. [Disclosure: I was on this working group for a few months.]

Interestingly, the ICANN working group report did say "most" registrars are not involved in fast-flux, but that "some registrars and more often, resellers of registrar services have the appearance of facilitation of fast flux domain attacks." The report doesn't say that a number of registrars have created and own their resellers, in order to circumvent ICANN's flimsy rules. Also, the report says, "No registrar has been prosecuted for facilitating criminal activities related to fast flux domains, but there have been reports linking one ICANN-accredited registrar to a large number of fraudulent domains including fast flux domains." The report doesn't mention or link any of this to the Facebook scam, but you can email me if you want to know which registrar they're talking about.

This all means, basically, as with so many other consumer problems on the Internet, don't expect help from anybody. Try to avoid fad messages on Facebook that relate to some headline of the moment. According to Facecrooks, a Birmingham, Ala., start-up that I cite with trepidation as it's blind-registered to a private proxy service and hides its physical address, Charlie Sheen's various antics are popular scam bait, as is a bogus coupon for a free meal at Olive Garden.

If you do fall for one of these, go to your Facebook account, go into Privacy Settings, and remove the application.
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If you're in the Bay Area next week and interested in these kinds of issues, please consider attending an Internet Town Hall on March 15 from 6 to 8 p.m. at CBS Interactive Studios, 235 2nd St. in San Francisco. Speaking at the Town Hall, which will be an open discussion about Internet policy that affects everyone, will be John Markoff, Declan McCullagh, and others to be announced. The Town Hall is happening in conjunction with the 40th ICANN meeting, a few blocks away and also free and open to the public. Register for the Town Hall here. Take part in deciding the future of the Internet before corporations do it for you.

Beau Brendler is chairman of the North American Internet users' advisory committee to ICANN, and for eight years was executive producer of the WebWatch project at Consumers Union.He also vblogs for Internet Evolution and writes for its Thinkernet, and also writes for AOL News.

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