Malaysia Airlines
July 22, 2014

Scammers Taking Advantage Of MH17 Crash With False Facebook, Twitter Posts

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Fraudulent social media posts and fake accounts have been used by scammers and hackers who are attempting to take advantage of public interest in the recent Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 disaster, as well as friends and relatives still grieving at the loss of their loved ones, various media outlets reported on Monday.

According to Matthew Sparkes, Deputy Head of Technology of The Telegraph, some of the “distasteful” social media accounts have been set-up using the names of child victims – including youngsters Otis, Evie and Mo Maslin of Perth, Australia, who were killed while traveling with their grandfather when the Boeing 777 they were flying on was shot down over the Ukraine last Thursday.

Reports suggest there have been at least six total pages which have been created in this manner and  a link to a pornographic website that had been disguised as a video of the crash was posted on a Facebook page dedicated to one victim, said BBC News reporter Kevin Rawlinson. In addition, several tweets that actually contained spam links falsely claimed to be reporting on the disaster.

“Unsuspecting users who clicked the links would then be bombarded by pop-ups for a number of dubious services including as get-rich-quick schemes, with the hackers’ sites also thought to contain malware and other dangerous programs,” The Independent’s James Vincent said, adding that similar scams followed the March disappearance of flight MH370.

Facebook told Vincent that it was “disabling these profiles as soon as we are made aware of them.” Furthermore, the social media website said that it was encouraging “people to block those responsible and report suspicious behavior to our team of experts via our reporting buttons so that we can quickly take the appropriate action.”

Even so, The Independent writer cautions that cybersecurity experts are warning that this practice, which is known as click fraud, is becoming more and more widespread as Web surfers are attempting to learn more about global stories such as these recent airline tragedies. The people behind the scams can make money in several ways, including by directing traffic to specific pages, or by soliciting donations for fraudulent charities or relief agencies.

Richard Cox, chief intelligence officer of The Spamhaus Project, told BBC News that incidents like this in which spammers and hackers attempt to exploit topics of interest were common. He said that the people behind these posts and pages could be using programs that detect commonly used terms and hashtags and repost using the same ones. Cox called it “a fairly rapid and predictable response” and said that there was “no compassion involved.”

Facebook isn’t the only social media website being used by these scammers, Rawlinson said. On Friday, Rik Ferguson, vice president of security research with TrendMicro reported that it has detected Twitter posts claiming to be about MH17, but which contained spam links. Ferguson said that the firm’s research suggested the pages were being used to generate click-based advertising revenue, but that this approach could also be used to sneak pages higher-up search engine rankings.