How Much Can Today’s Communication Media Be Trusted?

by Gordon on April 6, 2011 · 0 comments

Today’s social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook can be convenient tools for users to easily get the information they want. Such sites can easily satisfy users’ desire to know more, especially in the wake of life-changing events.

In the case of the recent disasters in Japan, hashtags related to victims’ safety, rolling blackouts and public transportation, which were created spontaneously helped provide information at the time and continue to be utilized effectively.

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However, users should keep in mind that there is a lot of fake information mixed in with fact. There are a lot of cases wherein people simply accepted information as truth, leading to unnecessary anxiety and inadvertently contributing to the spread of these lies. To help prevent such cases, we would like to share some tips on how to clarify the source of tweets.

The Jackie Chan hoax

Just recently, false news about the untimely death of the famous actor made the rounds online. According to the hoax, Jackie Chan had died of a heart attack, prompting fans from all over the world to post related tweets. A bogus news site, Yahoo!7 News was used in this attack, effectively redirecting users to the malicious URL, http://pastehtml.com/view/{BLOCKED}.html. The website was created using a hosting service “PasteHTML,” which allows users to register sites anonymously.

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There are various ways by which users could have verified the authenticity of this report. For starters, Jackie Chan has an official website as well as verified Twitter and Facebook accounts.

The official website of Jackie Chan http://jackiechan.com/
Twitter account @EyeOfJackieChan http://twitter.com/EyeofJackieChan
Facebook account of Jackie Chan http://www.facebook.com/jackie

Further investigations eventually revealed vital information about the source of the hoax. A simple Google search returned about 3,200,000 search results related to this information, as shown in Figure 3.

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To trace the source, I used Google Realtime Search (http://www.google.com/realtime/), which enables users to search the newest related information from online services such as Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook, MySpace, indenti.ca, TWiTArmy and Jaiku in real-time. The tool can also filter search results by area and time, as well as track each tweet by thread.

Using the keywords “Jackie Chan Dead” on Google Realtime Search returned the following search results:

On the right hand side, a timeline of the search results shows a graphical representation of the influx of information. Using the data that the search yielded, we were able to see that the occurrence of the keywords barely existed prior to March 29, 2011 at 2 AM Pacific time and rapidly increased soon after. Interestingly, the above mentioned fake news report was posted at around the same time, which proves that it contributed to proliferating the hoax.

Finding the source

In an attempt to dig even deeper, I looked beyond the notable peak in posts and went as far back as March 12, 2011. I found an interesting tweet, which was posted just a day after the recent disaster in Japan.

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Looking at these comments, one can surmise that these were probably from Jackie Chan fans who were concerned about his safety and hoped that nothing bad happened to their idol. Most noticeable in the tweets, however, is the word “flood,” which is associated with the recent tsunami in Japan.

But why did the news on Jackie Chan’s death suddenly increase? Let us continue to backtrack further. I was able to find possibly relevant tweets posted on March 8, 2011. This discussion thread appears rather innocent and could easily be passed off as a normal conversation among friends. However, there are instances when even seemingly harmless posts could result to the spread of a hoax.

Given Twitter’s 140-character limit, retweets tend to shorten posts and could contribute to contracted messages that may no longer look the same as the original posts. Most hoaxes disappear without going mainstream. However, once a hoax is posted in trusted sites or combined with facts known among people, the hoax has an increased possibility to explode.

Such is what happened following what is one of the greatest disasters yet in Japan. Hoaxes proliferated, especially in relation to celebrities and famous personalities such as anime creators. Interestingly, these hoaxes were found to have originated in the neighboring countries instead of from Japan. These bogus reports undoubtedly generate a lot of interest.

Take for instance a list of famous Japanese manga authors confirming their safety that spread in China. Unfortunately, we do not have a way to verify how and why the list was created. Therefore, we cannot conclude if the list is a hoax or if it is real.

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Apart from causing confusion among users, such popular topics can be leveraged by cybercriminals to lead users to malicious sites. Using typical blackhat SEO tactics, users can end up on sites serving malware and be victims of other attacks using social engineering techniques.

Trend Micro, in order to protect users from blackhat SEO attacks, has been developing a method to find malicious web sites as soon as possible among popular search results. This method is a combination of the Smart Protection Network, and information on “rapid increase in keyword ranking” announced by Internet search engines in each country. Users are able to utilize the results of this new method through Smart Protection Network Web Reputation Service.

On the other hand, we still recommend all Internet users to be careful when looking for information via the Internet, and ensure that their source can be trusted. Also, we strongly advise users to confirm the integrity of certain information that they find in the Internet before sharing it to other users, whether through social media or other means.

Post from: TrendLabs | Malware Blog – by Trend Micro

How Much Can Today’s Communication Media Be Trusted?

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