Responding to the growing threat of malware, Facebook on Wednesday announced a partnership with security giant McAfee that will encourage users to sign up for virus protection. The social network, which says it has 350 million users, has also developed a system with McAfee to scan Facebook messages for hidden malware.
If a threat is detected from a user, Facebook will be able to lock out that user's account until a free scan and clean program is run.
The announcement comes just days after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg caused a ruckus in the tech and online world by saying that the "social norm" had evolved to the point where people were less concerned about privacy and more inclined to share details of their lives on the Internet.
One expert said the timing, likely coincidental, might help change the conversation.
"Certainly, this would have been in the works for quite some time," said Michael Zimmer, an assistant professor in the school of information studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and an associate at the Center for Information Policy Research. "But I wouldn't be surprised if someone at Facebook decided to accelerate the announcement to show that they're taking user security seriously."
Facebook said the deal is an expansion of measures it began taking in July to detect compromised user accounts. The agreement will allow Facebook users a free subscription to McAfee Internet Security Suite software for six months, followed by a discount one-year subscription. The software protects against "viruses, spyware, hackers, online scammers, identity thieves, and other cybercriminals," McAfee says.
Another security software company, BitDefender, announced on Dec. 30 that spyware and malware activity rose drastically at the end of 2009. The company pointed to Trojan.Clicker.CM, which can force advertisements inside users' browsers when visiting nonsecure web sites, as the leading threat. Others include Win32.Worm.Downadup.Gen, Exploit.PDF-JS.Gen and Worm.Autorun.VHG.
The most common malware on Facebook has been Koobface, first detected in 2008.
BitDefender said the most common countries of origin for malware were China, France and the United States, followed by Australia, Romania and Spain.
The Best Defense Is an Offense
The McAfee subscription is available by selecting Protect Your PC on McAfee's Facebook page. Facebook said it will not receive any revenue from the deal.
"One of the best defenses against security threats is a good offense, and we want to help you take the offensive by having the latest security software installed on your computer," Facebook said on its official blog. "We're not aware of another free Internet service that takes this much responsibility for helping people keep their accounts secure."
On McAfee's web site, Todd Gebhart, executive vice president and general manager for consumer, mobile and small businesses, said: "We believe our partnership will make a real difference in the battle to secure the Internet by giving so many more people access to industry-leading technology from McAfee."
McAfee said it was chosen by Facebook after "a competitive review process among the leading security vendors."
Zimmer said the partnership "seems like a positive step toward helping protect Facebook users, especially the less-savvy ones, from phishing and related attacks."
Under the agreement, McAfee and Facebook will also work together to develop content for the Facebook security page, something that appears to be sorely needed. As of Wednesday, there were only three posts on that page since Dec. 9.
In other Facebook news, it was reported that some games within the network have been testing a Facebook currency system, Credits, which may soon allow users to trust their credit-card information with Facebook, which would then provide virtual money on request to applications in the network.