The Deception of Forwarded Messages and Links

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The Deception of Forwarded Messages and Links

The value of data has led to increasing demand for it. Researchers and innovators need a lot of data of all kinds to bring about new products and services, improve service performance and venture into the unknown to bring about disruptions. There are genuine ways institutions collect data. One of such ways is the use of surveys. However, people tend to ignore such surveys for several reasons. Cybercriminals and some companies without proper governance structures employ illegitimate ways to get the data they need at all costs. A common and misleading way to get users or people to gather data is through the use of links across the various social media platforms.

A link is a pointer to a record, material, or resource in another location. For example, if I have music posted on YouTube that I want to share, I will craft a message like this to share on my social media platforms: Hello buddy, have you seen my latest video? Click here to watch it. You will love this! Most often, we forward links to friends or groups to share presumably worthy information. However, most people do not read this information themselves to ascertain the authenticity of the forwarded message. Cybercriminals hide a lot of their nefarious activities within and behind links. Users have no idea what is behind the link. It is only the programmer who knows what is behind the link. If you are to know that a link is going to steal information from your phone or email, there is no way you will click on it. In order to achieve their objectives on their targets, cybercriminals would wrap their criminal intention and activities with something that is more engaging, very attractive, draws attention, and deceptively appetizing. Cybercriminals are like journalists. They craft headlines that would entice you to buy a newspaper and only for you to be disappointed with the content.

There are several things that can happen behind a link at the blindside of the user. When you click a link, you are at the mercy of the cybercriminal. There are series of technical actions that can be implemented within or behind a link but are unknown to the user. For a cybercriminal to steal your personal data or invade your privacy, they need your permission to do so. This permission from you is inherently embedded behind the link that has been presented in an enticing manner without your explicit consent.

Usually, behind these links are pieces of computer programs that will collect information from your device. The type of device, model, location, IP address, contacts details, ISP, pictures, etc. Some of these computer programs can be written to target specific contents on your devices such steal passwords, copy and send pictures from your device.

Some of these links after clicking can download a piece of software on your device such as keyloggers which will send everything you type to the cybercriminal. Some are capable of taking screenshots of your activities and send them to the perpetrator. This is very intrusive and dangerously invades our privacy and poses serious security risks to our personality, digital image, families, and friends.

Do not trust anyone when it comes to links. Treat every form of link, especially on social media platforms with the highest level of suspicion and negative mentality. Ask people who send this information if they have indeed verified them or visited the links and know their content. Do not forward links because you also got them from some group or think it may be useful. One golden rule to stay safe and also protect your friends and family, group members among others is that: do not forward a link you have not visited yourself or a message you have not read yourself to anybody.

They are tricky and easily draw attention with their convincing nature.

For example:

  1. Click here to see those who have blocked you on WhatsApp.
  2. I have sent you a secret message click here to view it.
  3. MTN is giving out free credit. Click here to get yours.
  4. Click on Yes if you love Jesus.

These are just a few of the kinds of deceptive messages that cybercriminals craft to engage their targets.

Another way is through the use of online forms popular among them is Google Forms. We are inundated with so many forms and surveys to fill online across all the social media platforms. From filling a form for COVID-19 financial assistance to new employment opportunities with juicy and unrealistic salaries and bonuses with international travel opportunities.

Do not fall a victim to forwarded messages and links anymore. They are very deceptive, and it is only the cybercriminal who knows what is behind the link provided. Do not be deceived and desist from forwarding messages you have not read or links you have not visited to friends.

Author: Emmanuel K. Gadasu

(Data Protection Officer, IIPGH and Data Privacy Consultant at Information Governance Solutions)

For comments, contact author  or Mobile: +233-243913077