Facebook on Thursday fended off an attack in which multiple identical profiles were created to spread malware.
Antivirus provider AVG Technologies said users of its LinkScanner service detected numerous profiles that were identical except with different names and each included a link to what was represented as a home video but which instead displayed a fake antivirus alert when clicked. The scams are designed to trick people into paying for software they don't need, to get credit card information from victims for identity fraud purposes, and often to install spyware on the computer.
"Clearly, the Data Snatchers have found a way to automate the creation of Facebook accounts, which means they've found a way to bypass the Facebook Captcha," Roger Thompson, chief of research at AVG, wrote in a blog post. Successfully translating a Captcha, a hard-to-read image of letters supposed to ensure that a human is involved, is required for a new account .
The malicious link was blacklisted by the major Web browsers and Facebook was blocking the URL from being shared on its site, said Facebook spokesman Simon Axten. Meanwhile, the company was working to identify all the fake accounts and disable them, he added.
Axten disagreed with the AVG speculation that the Captcha system had been broken.
"We're looking into how these accounts were created, but it's very likely that the sign-up process was manual, or that the person behind the attack farmed out the Captchas to be solved by humans for a price," Axten wrote in an e-mail.
For its Captcha system Facebook uses ReCaptcha, "which was recently acquired by Google and is about as well-regarded a Captcha provider as there is," he said.