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May 14th, 2008

30 Percent Of New Major Social Networks Accounts Are Fraudulent

According to anti-spam firm Cloudmark, in six months leading up to March 2008, social networking sites saw a fourfold growth in the amount of spam on their networks. At several major social networking sites, 30% of new accounts created are automated fraudulent “zombie” accounts, designed to be used for spam and other malicious attacks. All the major social networks have a problem with spam with volumes of spam ranging from 15 to 30 percent.

The type of spam advertised through social networks is the same type as that advertised by email spam and punted by much the same people. There’s an implicit trust in social networking. People don’t think they’re going to be attacked with spam and since people don’t trust email anymore, spammers are just following peoples’ online habits.

Social networking spam can be messages between users or posts to walls or other similar applications. Social network spammers most often hijack accounts using fake log-in pages. Phishing-like tactics, password guessing and the use of Trojans to capture keystrokes are also in play.

Junk messages, rigged to appear as though they came from their friends, are more likely to be acted on by recipients on social networking sites compared to the same messages received by email. Social network spammers try to recruit friends by posting profile pictures that depict them as attractive young women. By recruiting people into their groups or networks it’s easier for spammers to subsequently send them spam.

Social networking sites are attractive targets for spammers and identity thieves, because of their large, technically-naive and thus easily duped populations of users. Educating users has a more important role to play than simply applying a technology solution to the problem. As long as gullible users fall prey to social engineering, the spammers and scammers will continue their attacks. In particular the predators are starting to use data-mining techniques to create spam lists, sorted on geographic and demographic criteria. Such lists are of premium value to spammers.

When people come to understand that open social networking carries real risks, not only their privacy but their pockets through identity theft, we can expect to see demand for much more compartmentalized social networking environments.

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