My Journey into the World of Internet Fakes

Frederick Scholl, Ph.D., Cybersecurity Program Director, Quinnipiac University
Frederick Scholl, Ph.D., Cybersecurity Program Director, Quinnipiac University

We read daily about fake news, fake handbags, pretty much fake everything. It’s not a lighthearted topic, since social media manipulation is one of the preferred methods used by nation states in cyberwar related attacks. What happens when the information we see cannot be relied upon? During our present time of social isolation, we are even more dependent on what we see on the screens before us. Data integrity is the second leg of the security CIA triad of confidentiality, integrity and availability.

My recent experience on Amazon brought home some of these issues. I often browse for new cybersecurity books. A 2020 book, Cybersecurity, by Elijah Lewis caught my eye. It promised to be “A comprehensive beginner’s guide to learn the realms of cybersecurity from A-Z”. It also had 4.5 stars and glowing reviews. I plunked down $17.99, hoping to find some good material for teaching cybersecurity.

Amazon’s prompt delivery came through. After opening the book, I was surprised to find no author biography. I also started having trouble finding any real content in the 107 pages. No diagrams!? Then I parsed some of the language in each chapter; Chapter 7—“Times are changing fast”; Chapter 8—“The Internet of Things is more crucial for businesses than ever before”; Chapter 8—“You should not give data to the internet of things (IoT) that don’t need it”; Chapter 9—“Critical infrastructure is the assets, systems and network that play a crucial role in the security of the nation-state”. You get the picture. I started to wonder if the book was written by an AI (Artificial Intelligence) program. I went to the “Author Page” on Amazon. Nothing there, although Mr. Lewis has written several additional books. Then I went to LinkedIn to find a profile for him. Nothing there, either.

Next, I went back to the Amazon reviews. Who were the reviewers? John S. reviews books on cybersecurity, hydroponics and pregnancy; Julie reviews books on cybersecurity, cricket and vegetarian cooking! I didn’t see any reviewer with real qualifications. Are they fake also?

Finally, I enlisted some technology advice. Fakespot is a site that evaluates online reviews (www.fakespot.com). A reviewer’s reviewer. It looks at the reliability of those reviews. Below is the result after checking my book’s reviews: an F—not good in academia.

Fakespot.com evaluates online reviews.

I do thank Amazon for readily granting me a refund on this book. They were also very polite in posting my one-star review “This book is a fake” (“We and millions of shoppers on Amazon appreciate the time you took to share your experience with this item”).

What I learned is that we can all be easily scammed. I’m always looking for good books on cybersecurity and I hit “Buy Now” faster than I should have. According to the Washington Post, certain product categories like weight-loss and Bluetooth headphones already have 50-70% questionable reviews. Now we can add cybersecurity to books to that list.


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