Internet Social Media

Are Your Social Friends Infecting You With Malware?

Aaron Couch 31-01-2013

social malwareThe Internet and social networks are incredible – they allow us to connect with one another in a way we have never been able to before. But in many instances, they also propose a threat. You see, we trust our friends and contacts. Therefore, whenever a friend shares something they read or use on a social network, we are much more inclined to check it out, whereas we might be more hesitant if we just saw it amongst some search engine results. So what do you do to prevent becoming infected with malware via social networks?


The precautions are simple:

  1. Be aware and care
  2. Think before you click
  3. Warn your friends
  4. Properly set security settings

Ultimately, there are three kinds of naive friends that we have who are potential threats to us on social networks:

  • The Facebook Over-Sharer
  • The Dodgy Downloader
  • The Victim Of Identity Theft

The Facebook Over-Sharer

This is the person who prefers the Share button over the Like button and who blows up your News Feed. I have a few of these and they’re annoying. Sure you can prevent them from showing up in your News Feed altogether or filter out different kinds of posts… however, often times they do share a lot of good things – just too much.

So what’s the threat?

Because they share too much, the odds are higher that they’re bound to share malicious links once in a while – it’s a numbers game.

What can I do?

There are a few things you can do. For starters, you can install certain browser extensions which flag known malicious sites. Note that not every tool is 100% is perfect and there may be the occasional site that goes undetected.


There are several browser extensions for this including Web Of Trust Browse Safely With Your Own Internet Bodyguard Called WOT Read More , BitDefender’s TrafficLight, AVG’s LinkScanner, McAfee’s SiteAdviser Free and Simple Way to Stay Secure from Online Threats Read More and Norton’s Safe Web Norton SafeWeb: Is This Website Safe? Read More . In addition we’ve written about some more tools in the articles 8 Ways To Make Sure A Link Is Safe Before You Click It and 4 Quick Sites That Let You Check if Links Are Safe.

The clincher is, though, that not all of those tools work in social networks. There is one, which has been proven effective for this and that is Web Of Trust. It’s what I use, personally, and I feel that it is the most accurate due to the substantial community.

social malware

In addition there are some useful Facebook applications that you can use to enhance your security and protect yourself against the over-sharers.


BitDefender’s Safego, which is different from TrafficLight, but works well in combination with it. Safego works by scanning links which have been posted by your friends and pages that you follow.

social network malware

Safego has three specific features. Account protection, which warns you and protects your account against social network-specific scams by automatically scanning the posts in your News Feed for spam messages and malicious links. QuickScan, which, in less than 60 seconds, gives you a safety status check. QuickScan is an official product of BitDefender. Lastly, there’s the Friend Safe Net, where Safego automatically warns your friends when “fishy” links are posted in their News Feeds. Note that the “Publish to Wall” option must be enabled for this to work.

social network malware


For more information you can follow their Facebook page.

Norton Safe Web is another. It works by scanning your Facebook News Feed for the links shared with you in the past 24 hours. There is a label system which includes five categories: Norton Secured, Safe, Caution, Warning, and Untested.

social network malware

Note that for Auto-Scan to work, you must manually turn it on at first and approve the application’s permissions to access certain parts of your account. Also, I want to emphasize the importance of checking over the permissions of any app you are about to allow access to your profile.


getting malware from facebook

For more information about Norton Safe Web, you can follow it on Facebook.

The Dodgy Downloader

You know those people who install everything without thinking on their computer? Well, sadly they likely have a Facebook account as well. In fact, as you’ve probably noticed, as they’re the people constantly sending you app invites.

So what’s the threat?

About those app invites… you know that not all apps are safe? You probably do, but how do you tell? You follow those four tips at the beginning of the article. Out of all of those, probably the most important one for this category of friend is think before you click.

What can I do?

Whenever you’re invited to use an app, refrain from trying it, unless you know for sure that it’s safe. If you think the app is somehow unsafe, you can report it to Facebook as spam. You can also alert the person who “sent” it (because chances are, they didn’t actually send it). Recently, before I even considered writing an article about this, I had this exact experience where a friend sent me a request to use an app. Web Of Trust flagged it as unsafe, not that I would have clicked it anyway – I hate (most) apps.

getting malware from facebook

So what did I do? Well, as you can see, I looked it up and verified that it was unsafe. Then I contacted them. They received my recommendation kindly and removed it (I assume). This works on most occasions. Unfortunately, you will probably have some “friends” who don’t care about what apps that have and will ignore your recommendations. The best thing you can do is use a tool like Web Of Trust to look out for malicious links.

The Victim Of Identity Theft

If you aren’t careful and click a link from “The Facebook Over-Sharer” or “The Dodgy Downloader” you just might end up like one of your friends who is “The Victim Of Identity Theft”. You wouldn’t want that would you? But, even if you weren’t one yet, you could become one. How? From a friend who is one already.

So what’s the threat?

Right now you’re probably thinking “this doesn’t sound like a problem of mine, and I don’t have time to worry about my friends’ issues.” Well… you’re wrong because of two things:

  1. It is a problem of yours because you connect with them on Facebook.
  2. You’re on Facebook. Don’t give me the “I don’t have time” excuse.

Number one kind of sucks, doesn’t it? Yeah – that’s a big issue with Facebook. But it doesn’t have to be if you’ve made the proper precautions – you know, the ones listed at the beginning of the article that I keep referring to?

What can I do?

While all of those can be helpful in preventing the same curse happening to you, the biggest one is to properly set your security and privacy settings, which Facebook has recently made very easy Make Sure You're Secure With Facebook's New Privacy Settings: A Complete Guide Facebook also means two other things: frequent changes and privacy concerns. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Facebook, is that they’re not really concerned about what we like or our privacy. Nor should they... Read More . While the article I linked to provides the details, I will touch upon the basics. First, check out your Security Settings.

getting malware from facebook

Here you can adjust the settings for Secure Browsing, Login Notifications, Login Approvals, App Passwords, Recognized Devices and Active Sessions – all of which are important to familiarize yourself with.

But that’s not it – there are also Privacy settings and Timeline and Tagging settings.

getting malware from facebook

The Privacy Settings and Tools provide controls under two categories: “Who can see my stuff?” and “Who can look me up?” In the first section, you can control who can see your future posts, review all posts and the things you’re tagged in and limit the audience for posts you’ve shared with friends of friends or the Public. The second section allows you to change who can look you up using the email address or phone number associated with your account, and whether or not to allow search engines to link to your timeline.

Are Your Social Friends Infecting You With Malware? Facebook Timeline and Tagging Settings

The Timeline and Tagging Settings are equally as important. Have you ever been “spammed” on your wall from a friend via an app? That’s because you haven’t enabled the setting to approve posts before being published to your Timeline – do that and you’ll never be spammed. Note that whenever a friend “spams” your wall, they may or may not realize they’re doing it. Also, consider that by allowing your friends to “spam” your wall, you’re subjecting your other friends to the same junk – that’s not very considerate.

Don’t just stop at the Facebook security and privacy pages though – explore the App Settings page as well. There are a couple of important sections to note.

  1. Apps you use
  2. Apps others use

The Apps you use section has a “switch” to turn on/off Facebook Platform which, as explained in the image below, allows you to use apps and websites with Facebook.

Are Your Social Friends Infecting You With Malware? Facebook App Settings Apps you use Platform

If you don’t want to use Facebook with anything, by all means, turn it off. But you’ll likely want to use it with some app (such as the security ones mentioned earlier) or sign into a website, like here at MakeUseOf.

It is important to address, however, that with this turned off, you won’t receive any app invites from friends. The Apps you use section is important for exploring what apps you have installed. Take a second to see what apps you’re using and which ones you aren’t. It’s also important to go over what the apps have access to on your profile.

social malware

The Apps others use section allows you to control what your friend’s apps can access on your own. That’s right – if you see any of these check boxes checked, apps that your friends use are using that info about you. Need I say more?


By taking these precautions you will reduce your chances of acquiring malware via your social media contacts. Facebook was the primary social network focused on in this article, but the same rules can be used on other social networks, especially where clicking on links is concerned. Too Many Apps? How To Revoke App Permissions From Multiple Websites In 2 Minutes The online world offers many privacy concerns. We all know we should not post private things on Facebook, we mustn’t write down our e-mail address in conspicuous places, and we really should pay attention, as... Read More is an excellent tool for managing what services have access to your social networks.

Below are a few additional sources for information about Facebook security and preventing infections:

What are your experiences with Facebook malware? Any pet peeves you’d like to share (like I have)? Are there any other tools that you use, which have proven to reduce malicious apps and links in your News Feed?

Image Credit: Laptops sending and receiving infected files via Shutterstock

Related topics: Anti-Malware, Identity Theft, Online Security.

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  1. Ron Lister
    February 4, 2013 at 9:05 pm

    Great article not only am I going to use the sugestions here but i will share this article probably more than once with my friends.

    • Aaron Couch
      February 5, 2013 at 4:59 am

      Nice Ron! Thanks for your support!

    February 1, 2013 at 3:59 am

    This is a very important article. I recommend it for my friends.

  3. Aaron Couch
    January 31, 2013 at 8:48 pm

    Excellent suggestion Steve! Thanks for sharing.

    • Steve Yancharas Jr.
      January 31, 2013 at 9:01 pm

      No problem Aaron! Way to go on publishing an article that's not about the same boring thing everyone else is writing about!

      • Aaron Couch
        January 31, 2013 at 9:09 pm

        Thank you. I'll admit. Sometimes I feel some of my articles are boring as well, but I really try hard to make even boring articles interesting.

        Thanks for being a MakeUseOf reader. We appreciate you!

  4. Rigoberto Garcia
    January 31, 2013 at 6:08 pm

    Great article Aaron. Thanks...

  5. Nancy B
    January 31, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    OK where did the share on Fb link go??

    • Aaron Couch
      January 31, 2013 at 8:44 pm


      Are you still having trouble with this? Try refreshing the page and see if it fixes the problem — sometimes the fix is as simple as that.

      • Nancy B
        February 1, 2013 at 3:10 am

        No the FB link or any other are not here, even coming back in tonight to answer your posts.
        So I copied the URL on my FB page and the site and article came up.
        To my surprise my cousin who is the notorious sharer of links, liked it and shared it! OMG she might have taken a hint!

        Then I must have had a blonde moment, as on the Fringe page someone posted a link for a free download of season 4 and 5 of Fringe....being a huge Fringe fan, I clicked.....yep oh no......been running scans and malware fighters most of the day! Must have fallen asleep at the keyboard or something after reading and posting this article!

      • Nancy B
        February 1, 2013 at 3:31 am

        I had posted a reply but don't know where it went?
        No even hours later the FB, Tweet etc. buttons aren't on this page? I went to other pages all 3 times I've been here today and still not here?

        So I copied the URL and posted it on my FB page and it came up. To my surprise the cousin who sends the links to sites actually liked the article and shared it on her page! Now maybe she'll see why we just delete her messages like that.

        My blonde moment of the day was clicking a link by a Fringe TV fan and it taking me to a site to download it.....been running scans ever since. Turns out it had a Trojan attached to it. Fortunately my malware/virus fighter got it. Can't believe I did that!

        • Tina Sieber
          February 1, 2013 at 8:43 am


          longer comments are held for moderation and don't appear on the site immediately. What you see right after posting a comment is just a preview.

  6. Nancy B
    January 31, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    Interesting article that I'm definitely sharing on Facebook. I have a number of friends who are constantly posting articles, funnies and "you should get" things on FB and I never click on the majority as they just look fishy to me....... My cousin is notorious for sending emails with links, sometimes just to a youtube video, but others to who knows what?? I know a few of us have warned her about the dangers of passing on some of these things but even after getting bad enough virus on her laptop it had to go into a shop for repairs, she still does it. Most of the family just delete what she sends without clicking on the links. Hopefully she will read this article and realize how bad some of these things can be! ..... now which of these are the best in Chrome then going into FB?

    • Aaron Couch
      January 31, 2013 at 8:44 pm


      You're absolutely right! It is definitely frustrating when those who you try to help — not just for their safety, but others — don't care to listen.

      As far as your question on this comment, I'm not sure what you are talking about. But if you care to rephrase I'll do my best to help.

      • Nancy B
        February 1, 2013 at 3:05 am

        the question was kind of rhetorical, as in who knows where these links are going to take me? Not to answer.
        thanks anyway~

        • Aaron Couch
          February 1, 2013 at 3:07 am

          Got it! Did you find the Facebook share button?

  7. Steve Tanner
    January 31, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    This one reason I am wary of social sites !!!
    Good advice for protecting oneself, thanks v. much,

    mmmmm! "Malware infection from social friends" ----- could we describe this as a "Social disease" ??

    • Aaron Couch
      January 31, 2013 at 8:41 pm

      SMD — Social Media Disease.

      You're definitely smart in being wary Steve. Don't ever put your guard down.

  8. Rob
    January 31, 2013 at 5:04 pm

    Interesting and important article.

    And I will certainly want to do the things you suggest because it, "will improve (my) chances of acquiring malware via (my) social media contacts."

    Just kidding! ;-}

    • Aaron Couch
      January 31, 2013 at 8:39 pm

      Ha! Thanks for the correction Rob. Silly me :P

  9. Michael Portner
    January 31, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    Would love to see a similar article focused on android smart phones 4.1.

  10. Scott Macmillan
    January 31, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    I use web of trust and haven't had any problems with second hand malware.

    • Aaron Couch
      January 31, 2013 at 8:48 pm

      Good Scott! WOT is great! I recommend it as much as I can. But of course, I remain objective that there are other tools available that others might prefer.