It’s pretty hard to get through to someone when they have 200-thousand followers on Instagram. It’s also pretty easy to find images of them that are sure to be likeable. There you have the beginnings of the “Mary James” profile and some idea of how dumb and hard it is for me to think I can reach out and tell German porn actress, model and gamer, Anny Aurora, that some of her Instagram pictures are copy/pasted to fake a profile for whatever reason.
Who’s Ayodele Alabi?
Unless you specify a unique address for Facebook to use, by default it will borrow some or all of your name and add a numerical suffix. The photo gallery of Mary James has Ayodele Alabi.58 in the URL very plainly.
There’s been some debate about concealing parts of URLs to make them more user friendly and fight phishing schemes that mimic or scramble real website addresses. More about that in a bit. With settings that enable a clear view of the entire URL, a careful look can uncover important details.
Mary James has 116 friends from a wide geographic range that includes Nigeria, Brazil and down the street from where I sit. An odd surprise. The search for Ayodele Alabi as a “People” on Facebook has turned up far more than 58 profiles of men and women that allege to be from Nigeria. There are dozens. Too many to click through easily and I don’t really know what I’m looking for.
Gone in 53 minutes
Here, the post changes tense… I was just about to follow through on a wider search for the Ayodele name hoping to hack the Facebook URL method when I discovered that my new friend and Friend Request were gone. Mary wasn’t just a little gone; there was, well, nothing about Mary, anymore.
I began this quick journey by sampling the “give feedback or report this profile” button Facebook makes available beneath a click on the … ellipsis button. Options to help Facebook understand what’s happening (their words) include if the profile is “posting inappropriate things,” or quite simply a “fake account.”
Not reading thoroughly, I picked the “fake name” option. In the time I had available, I was easily able to pick apart who I was actually looking at and once I found the images that had been copy/pasted, I began writing what I expected would be a longer post.
How deep would this go?
The profile didn’t last long enough for me to collect numbers or info on the 116 friends but I had seen one guy from my neighborhood among scores of men and women from Brazil and Nigeria. If this was a phishing scam, there wasn’t much danger in it since Facebook won’t provide any mystery clicks and “Mary James” hadn’t promoted any clicks leading away from her cheery profile.
It’s the clicks that get you, you know; like the wind does in the cold. Joining in to events or webpages for Groups on the Internet, downloading CVs or popping into shared folders and changing your computer’s security permissions and settings at the request of strangers are entry vectors for malware.
While I was willing to play the Friend Request “game,” I certainly wouldn’t have played the “click here and there” follow-up if it came to that. But it didn’t. So what was happening? Was this just a setup for a later exploit?
Hoax-slayer.net has a post about some of the most common phishing tactics like:
- fake notifications
- compromised messages from friends
- is this you in the video? and
- notices alleging to come from Facebook
- click here to correct this wrong, etc
It’s a late 2018 post followed by a long string of similar posts that go into gory details about specific threats and cons and scams.
An important lesson from Hoax-slayer might be lost in the lengthy delivery. Through experience, my examination moved quickly to the URL and letters and numbers in the address bar. It’s important to know that website addresses work in very specific ways. Facebook.com is not the same as Facebook-admin.com The reliance that these must both be authentic Facebook properties is a misconception that phishing scams rely upon.
The Uniform Resource Locator, URL, has vexed browser makers and Internet surfers. Shortening often lengthy addresses is an old desire. URL shortening services sprang up, like bit.ly and goo.gl to answer the call. Snakebite.cafe has installed a shortener reducing links to the URL, sbce.us followed by five to seven sensational letters and numbers randomly chosen.
Shortening or abbreviations of long URLs became important again with small browsing devices that have limited display space and restrictive user input methods. The argument against browsers truncating, simplifying or otherwise shortening URLs is that research like mine (how I found another name lurking in the “Mary James” profile pages) and advice designed to help users avoid scams will be made incredibly more difficult.
Seeing the URL is almost always 20/20 vision. Techniques exist that use non-standard characters that look exactly like characters we would expect to see; that’s one case where clear sight of the URL would fail. Shortening services inadvertently create a veil that removes you one degree from the URL you will arrive at; so although the website you’re reading now can use sbce.us, you don’t automatically know where you’ll end up.
CheckShortURL.com is a service that peers through that veil of mystery. I ran a shortened URL through it and the results were pleasing. The report included load time, the full destination URL and meta description, the article title and author (also included in metadata as standard procedure). My criticism with the site is the last copyright date is 2014 and the pages present a lot of giffy ads.
So with the advantage to safe surfing being mostly with a full URL, what’s the argument against long URLs in the address bar? Proponents of changing the display properties say it will be less confusing and safer to cut out all the excess letters and numbers that comprise the very specifics of the page you’re visiting. Go figure: Both sides are looking out for your safety.
Website MobileSyrup has a brief post about Chrome’s mobile browser at version 64 featuring easy to read URLs. The link is below if you want to see that in action. At the time of writing, Chrome is at version 72
May 15, 2018 and Facebook and fakes
A search of how many fake profiles the social network, Facebook has taken down, removed or deleted reveals no clear answer, but a puzzle instead! On May 15, 2018, just about every different news organization reported a different number as the answer to that question.
- ReCode, 1.3 Billion “last six months”
- CNET, 583 Million “first three months”
- NYTimes, 865 Million
- Washington Post, 583 Million
- Engadget (November 15) 1.5 Billion “last six months”
I wasn’t the only one who these wild differences struck as odd. TweakTown (September 10) 1.3 Billion, runs through some hypotheticals wondering what the Facebook numbers really are for daily and monthly active users (DAU and MAU, respectively). Link below.
Gone so soon
Then, if not how many fake accounts might there be, how about how long does it take to get a fake account taken down? “Sarah’s Question” is cemented in Facebook’s Community Pages from 2015 when she reported a fake account she alleged was using her boyfriend’s picture. Her friends were complaining, weary from Friend Requests originating at what they all knew to be a Fake Profile. Mostafa Gado responded:
Hi Sarah, ¶ When you report an account, it takes time for Facebook to review it depending on the amount of requests they’re receiving. You can also see the status of your report here: https://www.facebook.com/support/ ¶ Hope this helps!
No further record exists of that support. Another support request says a fake profile with a name similar to the gal reporting the abuse is “seriously hindering my career!” The link to the profile may be, “broken or expired,” according to Facebook’s error message. The complaint had been made multiple times but that was in 2014.
My story is a sad one. One moment she was there. I reported her and the next moment she was gone. Her radiant smile is now just a memory for 116 unsuspecting strangers around the globe. With no phishing scam apparent, I imagine they were just happy they’d met a kindly, slender, new blonde friend for no discernable reason at all.
It’s the magic of the Internet I guess. Cutting both ways. Strangers bringing joy to strangers and some other stranger tearing it all down. I thought it might be fun to “Give feedback or report this profile” to Facebook. I probably made a lot of people sad if not just safer. She’ll be back though.
I’m pretty sure that Mary’s a fighter.
How to recognize and avoid Facebook phishing scams
Top 7 Facebook Scams to Watch Out for in 2018
Google Chrome mobile browser now shortens URL links
Facebook has deleted 1.3 BILLION fake accounts IF the math adds up