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Facebook battles spam attack, violent and porn images in feeds

By Leigh Goessl     Nov 15, 2011 in Internet
Facebook has been slammed this week with various types of scams and attacks, one of which has caused significant problems for the website.
In addition to the routine survey scams, such as ones that offer free airline tickets, the social network has gotten inundated with offensive content, and reportedly some of the images are pretty graphic. Primarily users have been seeing various forms of pornography and violent images showing up in news feeds, and posts are attributed to users that did not post the images.
Graham Cluley, from Sophos security firm, reported, "The content, which includes explicit hardcore porn images, photoshopped photos of celebrities such as Justin Bieber in sexual situations, pictures of extreme violence and even a photograph of an abused dog, have been distributed via the site - seemingly without the knowledge of users."
Facebook purportedly spent a lot of effort removing these posts on the network and eventually determined the problem was caused by malicious javascript that users were tricked into pasting into their browsers, according to Mashable. However which browser has the vulnerabilities is yet to be determined Sophos posted this evening.
About the spam, Facebook said, “Protecting the people who use Facebook from spam and malicious content is a top priority for us, and we are always working to improve our systems to isolate and remove material that violates our terms. Recently, we experienced a coordinated spam attack that exploited a browser vulnerability. Our efforts have drastically limited the damage caused by this attack, and we are now in the process of investigating to identify those responsible."
The post went on to explain how users were propagating the spam by unknowingly sharing the offensive images through the copying of the malicious javascript. The social network giant says company engineers are working to fix the "self-XSS vulnerability" that exists in the browser though creation of a system to removed the malicious content and shut down accounts that try to exploit it. Facebook also said they are going to focus on educating users through "educational checkpoints".
It is not clear how the spam was being spread, or who is behind the attack, but Gawker has speculated the group Anonymous is behind the upset.
Gawker writes, "Anonymous claimed last week to be developing a powerful "Guy Fawkes virus" with which they would attack Facebook. Spamming gore and porn is definitely one of Anonymous' trademark moves."
This has not been confirmed, nor has Anonymous taken credit for the Facebook exploit at this time.
“It’s precisely this kind of problem which is likely to drive people away from the site,” wrote Cluley earlier today. He added, “Facebook needs to get a handle on this problem quickly, and prevent it from happening on such a scale again.”
Facebook is supposed to be a family-friendly site and has an age requirement set at 13, although it has also been determined that many underage users are on the site through fraudulently creating accounts, sometimes with the permission and aid of their parents.
ABC News wrote this past May, "While parents of young kids may think that joining the social network may be innocent enough, [Jeff] Fox cautioned that it's not even a totally safe environment for adults and teenagers."
Fox is the technology editor for Consumer Reports; the organization had released a report earlier this year stating approximately 7.5 million of Facebook users in the U.S. are under the age of 13; about 5 million are under the age of 10.
These parents who either allow or help their children set up Facebook accounts may have second thoughts after this week's spam incident.
More about Facebook, Spam, Facebook news feeds, Social media, offensive images
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