Disinformation is a Cyber Security Threat

October 23, 2018 | Views: 8512

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It’s just Fake News…

If you are a person who follows news from social media as most people do, you are exposed to a daily dose of Fake News. Fake News, misinformation, junk, deliberately distributed deception and (the newest addition) “fake memes” are various names given to contrived material that is presented to be factually accurate. With the advent of monetizing traffic through ad clicks, spammers have created social sites and social media profiles to create and distribute this disinformation. The objective of Fake News are diverse, ranging from simple money making scams and gathering personal information to threatening democracies by manipulating and influencing the general public. For example, posts on business and employment-oriented forums where interested applicants are requested to enter their email ID and phone number for the supposed high profile recruiter to consider and contact. Consider the implications of voluntarily shedding out personally identifiable information on a public forum that can be accessed by everyone!

It is vital to distinguish between various types of disinformation as many websites and “Satire and Parody” channels are widely thought of to be legitimate although they seem quirky and bizarrely comical. The most common being:

  • Satire or Parody – Potential to fool but no intention to cause harm
  • Misleading Content – To frame an issue or individual by using misleading information or half-truths
  • Imposter Content – Impersonating genuine content
  • Fabricated Content – False content designed to deceive and do harm in all respect
  • False Connection – Headlines, visuals or captions do not support the content
  • False Content – Genuine content shared with false contextual information
  • Manipulated content – genuine information is manipulated with an intention to deceive

Why is this important?

Fake News is generated, shared and distributed by social bots, applications and fake profiles across various social media platforms. Although a majority of these look and feel like spam on the outset, the posting profiles follow the concept of typo-squatting (a form of cybersquatting relying on spelling mistakes) to mimic the identity of legitimate news companies and social media celebrities to lure naïve users to click, believe and share. For example, a typo-squatted account ostensibly from a technology giant promised give-away of cryptocurrency (as a way to apologize to the public) in return for a smaller denomination of the same, to which plenty of gullible followers fell prey to. Although this scam was soon identified by some eagle-eyed users, a number of news channels reported this on their page attracting more gullible users to the post. Had this “give-away” URL hosted a malicious auto-download program, the impact would have been more than just a money making scam.

On the bright side, the social media giants have taken measures to curb fake profiles and fake news by attacking the monetary incentives for clickbait spammers and also by removing phony accounts and social bots. Facebook declared removal of 580 million fake accounts in the first quarter of this year and Twitter declared to have shut down up to 70 million fake and suspicious accounts since May in a press conference. Although these are steps to a better online world, detection and exterminating artificial intelligent bots with conversational capability is not going to be an easy task unless appropriate proactive measures and due diligence is performed.

How to spot Fake News?

Spotting Fake News is as simple. One needs to have an eye for the following:

  • Posting profile – Review the spelling of the source and the “verified” mark as a certificate of authenticity as provided to most legitimate news sources. No Tick – No Trust.
  • Headline – A headline should be descriptive and not deceptive. Most fake news headlines instigate curiosity using exclamation points, capped letters rather than providing an abridged version of the actual factual news.
  • Cross check – Check post comments, reactions and rely on fact-checking websites before providing your personal information or clicking the link. Also, make sure the post is current and is not a repost of an old fact.

What should YOU do if you spot fake news?

Report, report and report! And also educate others when someone posts disinformation. Reporting these to content reviewers on the relevant platform would help content reviewers to quickly block the source and restrict spreading misinformation. This would be a step forward towards a safe and secure online journey. Friends don’t let friends share the fake news.

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