24th March 2020

Fake news in times of toilet paper shortage

Social engineering through fake news: Thumbnail shows criminals spreading fake news via social media and email.

Fake news and what's behind it

Especially in times of the Corona crisis we are flooded with news about the current status and absorb much of it with interest. Besides a lot of serious information, there are also a lot of false news on the way, which are persistent and appear again and again. Fake news is not a phenomenon of the corona crisis but has been omnipresent for centuries.

But what is the motivation and who are the people behind such fake news? The motives are very different. Often they are monetary ones: e.g. you should be directed to a certain website where advertising is also placed. The more visitors, the higher advertising revenue - so the calculation of the makers. Or the visited website contains a lot of (corona-free) viruses, which you can automatically load on your computer while surfing by.

Especially in emergencies, it is tempting to visit a website where the supposedly last toilet paper can be ordered or where disinfectant is still available. Pleased about the favourable opportunity, you can order online and after clicking the sending button your credit card details are already available to the fraudsters for an extended shopping tour. Whether they use it to buy toilet paper is a matter of speculation.

But not only monetary reasons are behind false news. Besides show-off-people who act out of fun, there are also faith warriors who want to spread their ideological views or even engage in targeted opinion making. In the Corona crisis also more and more people who want to live out phobias and conspiracy theories on the net.

The fake news are currently particularly popular via social media or e-mail. As readers, we are inclined to believe a news item if it is brought to us by people we know. The "hackers" know this too. Fortunately, there are more and more fact-checkers at the major providers of social media platforms who mark supposedly false news accordingly.

Nevertheless: Always switch on your mind. Just because a message has many likes or has often been shared doesn't make it more true or trustworthy. Above all, don't spread messages whose truthfulness you are not completely convinced of. News can often be checked by several (serious) sources. Above all, do not open any links or attachments, even those that promise you toilet paper. Always stay alert. And for real up-to-date (and true) information about Corona, visit the WHO website, including a section that exposes myths and rumours. Keep you and your computer virus-free!

Anne Lahner, specialist for security awareness and owner of 2 packs of toilet paper

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