Latest viruses exploit Facebook, Twitter
By Oregon Small Business Association,
A new form of virus—dubbed social media virus or social spam—has companies like Facebook and Twitter working around the clock to prevent hackers from exploiting their social networks.
Hackers have become adept at creating fraudulent profile accounts from which to launch large scale spam attacks. A new Social Spam Index created by Imperium, a start-up company devoted exclusively to fighting social spam, indicates that as much as 40% of public profiles across social networks are now fraudulent. Roughly 400 million Facebook users, for example, are victimized by social spam each day. And TechCrunch reported earlier this month that one of Imperium’s social network clients experienced a spam attack in which 300,000 fraudulent accounts were created in one hour, resulting in 475,000 spam messages to legitimate community members.
Compared to email spam, the problem of social spam as a percentage of overall traffic remains relatively small. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that 4% of Facebook posts and 1.5% of Tweets are now spam related. In contrast, more than 70% of all email is currently spam. However, email spam is trending downward (from 92.2% in August 2010) as preventive measures have become more sophisticated and better at blocking email attacks. Consequently, spammers are turning their attention to social networks. Facebook, which says that the volume of spam is outpacing its user base, now blocks 200 million spam-related actions daily.
Social viruses involve a number of troubling tactics. Among other things, hackers infiltrate social networks by creating false, often alluring profiles. They then target users who accept their friend invite, simultaneously sending spam across their personal network. The spam spreads further as other users do the same. Additionally, social spam is more deceptive than common email spam because it can make it look like your “friends” are recommending articles, items, and deals. Spammers also use major news events, often emotionally charged, to lure in users. Perhaps the most sophisticated and potentially dangerous social spam involves malware. Hackers dupe users into unwittingly downloading malware, effectively gaining control over their computers. In addition to sending out multiple spam messages, malware tracks users’ online presence, peers in on chat sessions, and even mines personal information.
In response to the growing problem, Facebook and Twitter, two of the most prominent social networks, are taking decisive action to thwart and stay one step ahead of spammers. Since 2008, Facebook’s site security team has grown from four engineers to 30. As many as one-third of Facebook’s 3,000 employees are now involved at some level in the war on spam. By the end of 2012, Twitter plans to have five programmers devoted exclusively to fighting spam—up from two currently.