Wrong-headed warnings about a worm spreading across Facebook are causing confusion about a real threat.
If you believe messages doing the rounds on the social networking site then a "Trojan worm" called "Knob Face", which poses as supposed footage of an outrageously unlikely affair between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, represents a severe information stealing threat.
Rumours in the same messages that adding someone called 'smartgirl 15' as a contact will result in viral infection are also dead wrong.
Misconstrued warnings along these lines have become commonplace on Facebook over the last week or so, as a quick search of the social networking site illustrates.
Strains of sophisticated malware family called Koobface have menaced Facebook and members of other social networks for months. Prospective victims are typically encouraged to download malware disguised as a Flash update from a third-party website.
But the real malware - which is designed to promote scareware and make money from so-called click fraud (as explained here) - has nothing to do with either fictitious Obama affair video lures or smartgirl 15.
By warning about "Knob Face" (the wrong name), and including two inaccurate pointers to how you can identify the attack well-meaning users are doing more harm than good, net security firm Sophos notes. It advises that users should only share warning about viral threats after double checking them with credible sources, rather than just passing on attention-grabbing snippets without pausing to think.
Viral hoaxes have been a problem for years, creating an unnecessary distraction while spreading confusion and distracting from real threats.
"Virus hoaxes are actually harder to kill off than real viruses - unlike computer malware, hoaxes have spread not just via computers but by Ed Stewart repeating them on the radio, in the newspapers, and while having a chat down the pub," explained Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos.
"As social networks like Facebook are the new place to 'hang out and chat with your friends', they provide perfect conditions for hoaxes to spread at breakneck speed."
"Although no official research has been done on the subject, it is estimated that hoaxes can cost you even more than a genuine virus incident. After all, no anti-virus will detect hoaxes because they aren't viruses.
"Some companies panic when they receive a hoax virus warning and assume the worst." ®