Momo becomes a YouTube horror star
David Emm, Principal Security Researcher, Kaspersky Lab
The internet has been seized by the spooky ‘Momo’ story again – this time, she’s spread to YouTube. Momo, who boasts a scary face for an avatar, is threatening users, distributing upsetting content, and frightening children.
Now comes the question again: how do we secure the younger generation from harmful influences on the web?
Where did it come from and what does it do?
Momo’s avatar is a photo of a sculpture by Japanese artist, Keisuke Aizawa, depicting his vision of a ghost called Ubume, told of in Japanese folklore. Momo shows victims horrifying content, claims to know everything about its contacts, including their actual locations, and tells people that contacting it will not go well for them. Momo may even give them a call — people report hearing bone-chilling sounds or a badly distorted voice. However, many sources claim that the spook answers only those who attempt to get in contact with it. According to some sources, Momo’s number was originally distributed through Facebook and then other social networks, as well as Reddit.
Momo is about hype
Momo has turned into hype — a story taken up by media and bloggers. The former contributes fabricated details, the latter conversations with fake Momos, creating more and more new accounts with the ill-fated avatar. The opportunities presented by Momo naturally attract Internet trolls, who, as likely as not, have produced many more signature-style accounts to scare people with.
Given its scary appearance, the creepy content it sends out, and its attempts to compel people to harm themselves, contacts with Momo (no matter who created it) may traumatise unprepared individuals, especially children.
Look after your kids to keep them safe
In a nutshell, Momo is someone’s bad idea of a joke, taken up and multiplied on the internet. There is nothing to be scared of, really, but the experience is potentially a very unwelcome one for children. If you’re worried about this happening to your children, speak to them and listen to them. Be their friend and they will tell you about the things that scare or offend them in cyberspace, whether it’s Momo or something else. If you pay attention to your children, you will notice any suspicious changes in their behaviour. Your child is in the risk zone if they:
- begin neglecting their schoolwork;
- lose interest in their hobbies;
- become prone to abrupt mood swings, depressed, or aggressive;
- stay up and online at night;
- have suddenly added or deleted many friends in social networks;
- have suddenly deleted their account or accounts;
- have ceased speaking to you.
We also advise using a parental control solution. It will guard your children from the content you don’t want them to see and limit the time they spend one-on-one with their devices – as young children can spend more than four hours a week with ‘digital babysitters’, like smartphones and tablets. These solutions will never replace your dialogue with kids, of course, but it will surely help you avoid certain troubles.
What can be done to protect children?
It is important to remember that this not a genuine cyber-threat in terms of infecting or corrupting devices or seeking to steal, however, it is a malicious joke intending to shock and unsettle and, as the craze gathers momentum and media hype increases, more people are going to be tempted to scare their friends or, more worryingly, use the meme to harass and intimidate.
Children are often the first to be exposed to new internet culture content as they seek it out and share it more prolifically. While this does not seem to be an attempt to spread malware, it comes as a timely reminder that as parents we need to maintain close contact with our children’s online world, and that open dialogue is the best defence against both malicious content and cyber-threats, as well as not accepting/opening any content from unknown sources. It is always good practice to not wait until your child has uncovered anything sinister to talk to them the basics of internet safety, which will help them cope when threats emerge. Our advice to parents is:
- Have regular conversations with your child(ren) – make them aware of how to be safe online. Agree which sites are appropriate for them and ensure they understand the reasoning behind this. They also need to know that they can – and should – confide in a trusted adult if they experience something upsetting whilst online.
- Make sure your child understands they should not ‘friend’ anyone online they don’t know in real life, or add unknown numbers to their contacts – people online are not always honest about who they are and what they want.
- Activate safety settings – settings such as auto-play should be disabled and parental controls can be installed to help prevent children from viewing inappropriate content.
- Make use of the mute, block and report features – This will protect them from a lot of harmful content.
- Never share personal information such as phone numbers, address, etc with people you don’t know.