New-age tools of connecting, principally through blogs, had a lower trust factor, according to a survey commissioned by the Middle East Public Relations Association (Mepra). Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai:  If you’re one of the millions of UAE residents who use networking sites, you have probably come across a number of salacious fake news and hoaxes popping up on your news feed.

While it may be easy to spot some posts that are not meant to be taken seriously, others can be easily missed by the untrained eye.

With social media now making the spread of information a lot faster than word-of-mouth, UAE residents have been advised to be extra vigilant, as scammers have gone the extra mile to appear as authentic as they can be by imitating legitimate and popular websites.

Security experts warned that there have been a number of fake news sites circulating in social media to target users in the UAE.  While fake news is nothing new, there have been more and more attempts by fraudsters to copy the look and layout of real life newspapers to make their content as believable as possible.

The articles promoted by these scammers are not just meant to misinform the readers, they’re out to make money off them. One of the dangers is that people could be misled into parting with their money to invest in a scam or dodgy company.

Another risk is that by clicking on fraudulent content supplied by fake news sources, readers expose themselves to hackers – that is, their credit card details or personal information can be stolen.

“Cybercriminals or miscreants now take every effort to ensure that their fake news websites look as authentic as possible,” said Nicolai Solling, chief technology officer at Help AG.

There have also been instances in which verified social media account of news outlets have been hacked and used to propagate fake news.

Solling warned that hackers masquerade themselves in the form of a photo, link or downloadable content, and once users click away, they’re compromising their privacy.

“There is always a chance that the website could be used to trick users into downloading malware which may be embedded in images, links of downloads,” explained Solling.

“Attackers are also using these websites in order to phish users, that is, get them to share sensitive personal information which can then be used to carry out a host of other attacks.”

Why you shouldn't share fake news

There is also another important element that UAE online users need to consider. When they share fraudulent information, they could put themselves in legal trouble.

“We have a law against spreading rumours, so it could be dangerous for users to share fake news stories,” said Solling.

“Overall, fake news is a massive problem and can steer the political and social course of our societies. It is therefore something we will need to get under control.”

How to protect yourself

1.       Check the website’s name in the address bar
Before you share anything or believe in what you’ve just read, check the URL. When you look closely at the address, you may notice that the web link is a little odd. So, if your go-to website is ThisIsMycity.com, you should be very suspicious when you come across a link that’s spelled slightly different.

“[The difference] might be a small spelling change, or registration with a different domain,” said Solling.

“I would also recommend looking out for the https connection, as following changes to the Google search algorithm, most if not all legitimate websites have implemented the https protocol instead of the insecure http connection.”

2.       Be wary of clicking on just any post on your news feed
Oftentimes, it’s hard not to resist clicking on social media posts that purportedly expose some intriguing information about your favourite celebrity or anything that promises to make you rich or win free air tickets.

Don’t get too excited and click away, unless you’re certain the post is from a trusted source. When in doubt, it’s a good idea to go to a legitimate website. “Instead, [you] should manually type in the trusted website address and browse the article [you’d ] like to see,” said Solling.

“We have also seen instances in which verified social media account of news outlets have been hacked and used to propagate fake news. Because of this, I would also warn users against visiting news websites by clicking through to them from social media posts,” Solling added.