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How Social Networks Can Be a Friend to Viruses

There are some unavoidable risks associated with spending time on social-networking sites. Some friends can't stop themselves from oversharing the details of their lives, whether drunk or sober. Some will get sucked into the random games you can add to a Facebook profile and then keep suggesting you do the same (thanks but no thanks, not interested in all those top-five quizzes and mafia/drug/vampire-wars games myself). If you leave your phone logged into a social-networking site, having that phone stolen can become a minor catastrophe.

And then things could get worse. Today's column started out after a couple of colleagues had Facebook or Twitter accounts hacked. The experience was awkward all around, but in a sick way, I had to appreciate the diabolical genius involved in turning the core virtue of a social network--the way it translates physical-world trust to the Internet's universe of ones and zeroes--against a social network's users.

I hope the entire column winds up being a footnote because we all proved to be smarter than the virus writers, but just in case, I wanted to outline the possible vulnerabilities. (Remember, I'm the guy who wrote a review of Windows XP when it shipped in 2001 that didn't even include the word "security"; I'd rather not repeat that oversight.)

I can see ways in which the current trends on social-networking sites--people pushing Web links with no hint of their content, "friends" that you don't actually know that well, and the fast pace of the conversation on most of these forums--would make it too easy for a distracted user to click on the wrong link. And I know I wouldn't enjoy being the person who clicked on that wrong link, not after all the how-to pieces I've written about computer security.

So that's where I was coming from with today's piece. Now, here are my questions to you all:

1) How many times have you seen friends on one social network unintentionally pass along a link to a virus?

2) How many times have you been one of those friends?

3) How much time do you take to judge the trustworthiness of the links that friends pass along on social networks, especially if they've been obscured and condensed with a service like TinyURL or

Post your answers in the comments -- and then join me at noon today for my regularly scheduled Web chat, when we can mull over these issues and any other personal-tech topics you've got on your mind.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  July 10, 2009; 10:15 AM ET
Categories:  Digital culture  
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Social networks bring social diseases. Online imitates life once again :-)

Seriously, though...I tend to restrict friends to people whom I know and with whom I'd willingly have dinner. I generally pas along links only to large reputable organizations (and, sometimes, the Washington Post) and I always use the preview option of tinyurl.

The only unpleasant incident I've had was one of those quizzes which broadcast an invite to everyone in my friend list despite the fact that I hadn't selected anyone. I was not the only person to whom this happened.

Posted by: pjgeraghty | July 10, 2009 12:10 PM | Report abuse

I haven't been either a victim or a far. I try hard not to do either. I also USUALLY share/use the slightly longer link produced by Tinyurl that gives you a chance to see where you're going before you go.

But, then I know my "friends" ARE my friends.

I do NOT use any of the "applications" from facebook, as all of them warn you that, if you click, they'll snag all of your photos and friend information when you join in their reindeer games.

Good article and discussion query from you. Too bad more folks haven't replied.

Posted by: RHMathis | July 11, 2009 1:21 AM | Report abuse

somewhere else can you interview me about the need for a new word for what we do online, it is not reading it is screening. Alex Beam agrees, as does Kevin Kelly. Please email me at danbloom in the gmail account, you know how, and see my blog about google "Screening versus reading online". This would make a great Post story or blog post by you. THink about it, Rob, reading is only what we do on paper, everything we do now on screens is SCREENING. do email me at least. DANNY, Tufts 1971, longtime friend of Ben Bradleee, he interviewed me for a job in 1975, obits page. True.

Posted by: polarcityboy | July 12, 2009 3:41 AM | Report abuse

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