Networks Can Be a Little TOO Viral

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"Be careful what you click on" is just as valid today as a decade ago - even if security and filtering software assures that viruses and adult-site spam can never reach your desktop.

Recently I received an e-mail whose subject line said a trusted contact "has sent you a hi5 Friend Request." A link in that e-mail brought up a page saying that person "added you as a friend on hi5. We need to confirm that you know ... (contact's name) in order for you to be friends on hi5. Click the button to confirm this request...Join hi5!"

I replied that before joining, I would need to be convinced that the service is both useful and effortless, and that my contact wasn't receiving any benefit in return for referring new members.

As I expected, she promptly responded that the "hi5 Friend Request" had been sent in error, and that I should not respond.

'Pimp Your Toolbar'

This episode had a familiar ring. A year or so ago, an e-mail from a family friend arrived in my home inbox with the subject line, "Pimp your toolbar!" When asked, my embarrassed friend explained that he'd clicked on an invitation he hadn't meant to, whereupon it apparently sent identical e-mails in his name to everyone in his address book. (If the word "pimp" in the subject line wasn't enough giveaway that someone had goofed, there was also the little fact that the e-mail misspelled his first name as "Donal" instead of "Donald." Evidently the "pimp" spam site's software had a glitch that limited the number of characters in the names it scraped.)

That individual was retired on disability, so at least the mistake didn't torpedo his career. I don't even want to think about the consequences if the same thing befell me - or you.

In the pre-security, pre-filter era, visiting the wrong Web site or opening the wrong attachment could sock your office with a disastrous virus. Or make "not safe for work" adult images repeatedly pop up on your screen until you rebooted. (The latter happened to a middle-school substitute teacher in a classroom a couple years ago. She didn't reboot because the guidelines she'd been handed by her employer explictly forbade shutting down the classroom computer for any reason. She was not only fired, but arrested, and if memory serves, convicted of child endangerment and sent to prison.)

Disasters of that sort are somewhat less likely today, thanks to improved digital shields. But the exponential growth of online social networks and their use of increasingly sophisticated marketing tools, creates new pitfalls for the unwary. The moral: when you receive an "invitation," don't let your guard down, even if it appears to be from someone you know.

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