Monday, December 14, 2009

Viruses That Leave Victims Red in the Facebook

SAN FRANCISCO — It used to be that computer viruses attacked only your hard drive. Now they attack your dignity.

Malicious programs are rampaging through Web sites like Facebook and Twitter, spreading themselves by taking over people’s accounts and sending out messages to all of their friends and followers. The result is that people are inadvertently telling their co-workers and loved ones how to raise their I.Q.’s or make money instantly, or urging them to watch an awesome new video in which they star.

“I wonder what people are thinking of me right now?” said Matt Marquess, an employee at a public relations firm in San Francisco whose Twitter account was recently hijacked, showering his followers with messages that appeared to offer a $500 gift card to Victoria’s Secret.

Mr. Marquess was clueless about the offers until a professional acquaintance asked him about them via e-mail. Confused, he logged in to his account and noticed he had been promoting lingerie for five days.

“No one had said anything to me,” he said. “I thought, how long have I been Twittering about underwear?”

The humiliation sown by these attacks is just collateral damage. In most cases, the perpetrators are hoping to profit from the referral fees they get for directing people to sketchy e-commerce sites.

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