FBI warns of social networking fraud, malware escalation

Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter hit with all manner of spam, phishing, malware and general fraud

Fraudsters are targeting social networking sites with increased frequency and users need to take precautions, the FBI warned.

Just today Roger Thompson, chief of research at AVG Technologies, blogged about an automated rogue spyware attack using Facebook in which hackers create new Facebook pages. “We’re seeing rather a lot of these, all from different profiles, but with the same picture and link. Clearly, the Data Snatchers have found a way to automate the creation of Facebook accounts, which means they’ve found a way to bypass the Facebook Capcha (the image of letters which are required for a new account, which are supposed to ensure that a human is involved),” said Thompson.

Network World Extra: 12 tips for safe social networking

The FBI meanwhile states that fraudsters continue to hijack accounts on social networking sites and spread malicious software by using various techniques. One technique involves the use of spam to promote phishing sites, claiming there has been a violation of the terms of agreement or some other type of issue which needs to be resolved. Other spam entices users to download an application or view a video. Some spam appears to be sent from users' "friends", giving the perception of being legitimate. Once the user responds to the phishing site, downloads the application, or clicks on the video link, their computer, telephone or other digital device becomes infected, the FBI stated.

Another fraudster favorite involves applications advertised on social networking sites, which appear legitimate; however, some of these applications install malicious code or rogue anti-virus software, the FBI stated.

Other malicious software gives the fraudsters access to your profile and personal information. These programs will automatically send messages to your "friends" list, instructing them to download the new application too, the FBI stated.

Symantec's Zulfikar Ramzan wrote in a recent CSO article that there's no question that online social networking continues to rise in popularity due to the numerous conveniences and opportunities it provides. There's also no question that social networking provides phishers with a lot more bait than they used to have. Threats can come from all sorts of avenues within a social networking site. Games, links and notifications are the low-hanging fruit for phishers to use as they lead people into dangerous territory. As society picks up one end of the social networking stick, it finds that it inevitably picks up the security problems on the other end, he stated.

The FBI recommended the following basic tips to help prevent most nefarious activities:

•Adjust Web site privacy settings. Some networking sites have provided useful options to assist in adjusting these settings to help protect your identity.

•Be selective of your friends. Once selected, your "friends" can access any information marked as "viewable by all friends."

•You can select those who have "limited" access to your profile. This is for those whom you do not wish to give full friend status to or with whom you feel uncomfortable sharing personal information.

•Disable options and then open them one by one such as texting and photo sharing capabilities. Users should consider how they want to use the social networking site. If it is only to keep in touch with people then perhaps it would be better to turn off the extra options which will not be used.

•Be careful what you click on. Just because someone posts a link or video to their "wall" does not mean it is safe.

If you want to report an incident, the FBI says to file a complaint at its Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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