A Horror Story about the Koobface Virus and How It Invaded the World’s Most Famous Social Networking Site
For millions of e-curious individuals, the greatest words in their e-mail subject box may be, “Dr. Hugo Hackenbush (sender’s name goes here) added you as a friend on Facebook.”
After an eye-opening experience, Facebook and I are now friends like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are friends.
Like millions of other Facebook users, I too had that morbid curiosity to reconnect with friends I worked with, and/or slept with, eight jobs ago. And yes, mea culpa, I really thought my Facebook friends cared about the photos taken of me in the 1980s, which revealed my resemblance to a certain adult film star.
But after the electronic wizardry of Facebook went awry in December, I now wish a host of plagues on that social networking site I wouldn’t wish on my worst frenemy.
The infamous Koobface virus
If you’re online as much as I am every day (10+ hours), you may have heard that a powerful computer virus called Koobface infected a huge number of Facebook address books in early December, 2008.
What’s more, for the simple reason that I was stricken by the virus early on, many of my 289 Facebook “friends” believed, inexplicably, that it originated with me!
It all began innocently enough: I received an email from a person whose name I recognized with the following message in the subject box: “I have a video of you.” Since I had participated in an office gag video about 12 years ago, which was circulating on Facebook, I figured this person wanted confirmation.
So I clicked on the link. D’oh!
One of the cardinal rules of email, I’ve learned, is to NEVER click on a video link (unless, of course. it’s from YouTube). That came as somewhat of a surprise to me, because during election season, I must’ve sent or posted close to 300 links to political videos, many on Facebook.
When I clicked on this one, though, a screen popped up with the words, “video loading.” However, it never did load, which should have been the clue that it was a fake.
So what did I do? I clicked the link again of course, and when the video didn’t load, I gave up.
But Koobface didn’t.
Danger, Will Robinson!
When I came back from lunch and tried to log into my computer, the screen looked as garish as the neon-lit Shinjuku district of Tokyo. There were brilliant pop-ups dancing across my screen, crying out, “You’ve been infected!” “Virus alert!”
I immediately called the Help Desk at my organization, and the very calm person on the phone (How do they always remain so calm, I wonder?) told me to disconnect from the network, power off, and walk away from the computer.
Now this presented a quandary, particularly for a person with a conscience. How do you warn your Facebook friends about a virus if you don’t have a computer to warn them with?
Thinking fast, I reached for my PDA, clumsily punched the Facebook URL into the browser and was able to punch out, with minimal typing errors, a new Facebook status (FYI: this is the area on the Facebook home page where you tell everyone what you’re doing or what’s on your mind, e.g. “Lauren is really hung over,” or “Brendan says, never trust a vice-presidential candidate who can’t form complete sentences.”)
Three hours later, after an afternoon of suffering through eBay withdrawal, I hurried down to the Help Desk, and introduced myself to that surreally calm tech. He informed me that there was not one but at least 17 viruses on my computer. And, oh yes, this would require at least another hour of downtime.
I could just imagine how many e-mails I was getting in response to the Koobface email virus. And sure enough, when I checked my Treo, I discovered at least 25 messages from Facebook friends I hadn’t spoken with in years. Comments ranged from, “You really have this video of me?” to “Oooh, I can’t wait to see what naughty times we had together!” The latter came from a 46-year-old heterosexual male.
By 6 p.m., my computer was finally scrubbed free of viruses, and I headed home for the day. But I wasn’t out of the woods yet. For the remainder of the evening, and long into the wee hours, I continued to receive emails from Facebook friends asking, “Did you really send this?” and “This doesn’t sound like fun,” and “Who the hell is Desk Jockey, anyway?”
This goes to prove that cultural critics are right. People really don’t read anymore, even warnings. Even if they’re posted on the social networking site that everybody belongs to.
Sending out 289 apologies at the crack of dawn
The next morning, instead of rising at 530 a.m. to cycle around Central Park, I stumbled over to my home computer to personally email my Facebook friends and explain that they should not click the phony email that “came” from me.
By the time I got to work, however, I received a message from Facebook saying that “suspicious activity” had occurred on my account and they were suspending me. Apparently this happens automatically when too many e-mails are sent by one person.
But the suspicious activity wasn’t the Koobface virus, it was the e-mail I had sent warning my friends not to open the virus!
It’s at times like this that you begin to think the terrorists really did win.
Image of screen shut down by virus
The Connecticut office weighs in
Throughout Day Two of the Koobface Virus Crisis, I continued to receive emails from people in our Connecticut office, implying that I had personally sent this virus to them and that it had caused a pregnant woman’s computer to break down totally. (They emphasized the fact that she was pregnant, implying I might also be responsible for a miscarriage.) Another person wondered if the virus were affecting non-Facebook users because he assured me he wasn’t on Facebook. I assured him he was, to which he replied, after a few moments, “Oh. I am, aren’t I?”
I managed to maintain a sense of detached amusement through the crisis, fortunately. I told someone I was waiting for my colleagues in Connecticut, many of whom I’d personally helped out in a crunch, to blame me for the Reichstag Fire (Berlin, 1934) and the Hindenburg disaster (1936). But, I added, I had them on both: I was born in 1954.
By Day Three, all the major search engines and news sites had finally confirmed what I had known all along: that the Koobface virus had attacked a “small proportion” (Facebook’s words) of users. I eagerly mailed the link to some of my doubters, but then I realized that after what they had been through, they probably wouldn’t open another email from me ever.
The virtues of Facebook
Of course, in the interest of fairness, I must admit that Facebook does posses some very attractive features. Thinking up a new “status,” in which you announce what you are doing at that very minute in time, is always fun, especially when you are sitting through a God-awful conference call and need a distraction. And quite frankly, if you can think up something that will be wittier than your fellow Facebook friend, you can not only boast, “my day is made.” But others may comment favorably on it. (“Good one” is a brief, popular response.)
I must also credit Facebook with suspending my account for “suspicious activity.” They did wait 10 hours before doing so, but at least they did it.
However, I must ask you, dear reader: do you really want to put your entire personal life on the Internet, especially if you plan on advancing your career? Will future employers have second thoughts about hiring you once they learn how high you get every weekend? Or that “Episco” is your “pal”?
Suppose you post photos of your latest party. Will certain Facebook friends be offended if they weren’t invited?
So what’s the solution for the plugged in? Linkedin
If you aren’t on Facebook, are you totally and hopelessly out of touch? Might you have to sign up for Twitter, in which you actually “follow” someone–which always sounds to me suspiciously like stalking? What about Doonstang, to which only graduates of “MIT and Stanford” are invited?
No, the true solution for those who need the approbation and support of others (and there are millions of us) is LinkedIn.com. It’s far more professional than Facebook, in that you list your career history, instead of your love for taleggio, for instance. What’s more, Linkedin.com lets you join networking groups (an extremely valuable feature in a recessionary economy), and you will find many of your colleagues, current and former, on Linkedin as well. Most companies actually encourage participation, so you can participate throughout the workday with official approbation.
Collecting Linkedin friends is as enjoyable and easy as collecting Facebook friends. So far no virus has crashed the site, either. Of course hackers, smart devils that they are, always love a challenge.
My final take on Facebook? If you really want to show off your baby photos, reveal them to your significant other instead of your Facebook friends. He/she’ll really love you for them, or at least give you an honest opinion.
Instead of a virus.
Oh, and by the way, you can never have enough friends, so come visit me now that I’m back on Facebook.
August Cosentino is a professional writer who cycles passionately, eats discriminately, attends theatre religiously, Facebooks constantly, and as the photo indicates, is as good to his mother as he was to his father who passed away in 2012. He lives in Manhattan with his two carbon-fiber bicycles, and G.
ARTICLES BY AUGUST COSENTINO
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Fifty Shades of Pain: Cycling the Pyrenees, One Mountain Pass at a Time
Go West Young Desk Jockey
Greece: It’s a Riot
How Many Facebook Friends Are Too Many?
Marylebone and Me
The Sandwich Generation: Eldercare and Me
Scandinavia, The Great Escape
Welcome to the Jungle: Is Mad Men Really About Advertising
Work Like Wall Street: Earn Like Main Street