Spam lives on in our social networks

Despite the internet’s constant evolution, it has never been able to shake off one particular parasite that leeches off the web’s more naïve users; like the web, spam mutates at every technological shift, and a cure is yet to be found.

In the past year symptoms have receded; the volume of junk mail landing in inboxes attempting to trick users out of their money has declined slowly since late 2009, and by almost half in the past three months. But that’s because the spammers have a new target: social networks.

Spammers have discovered the goldmine of trust – exploiting users’ intimate relationships with their Facebook profiles and Twitter accounts to dupe a new audience out of their money.

Twitter claims that only one per cent of its traffic is spam, but researchers from the University of California and the University of Illinois have contradicted that claim, suggesting that eight per cent of links are shady at best. And although most people may have wisened up to a suspicious link sent by a stranger via email, links on Twitter are over 20 times more likely to be clicked.

Facebook is also at risk of infection, despite founder Mark Zuckerberg claiming the contrary when he announced the website’s new Messages service. “Because we know who your friends are, we can put in really good filters to make sure you only see things you care about,” he trumpeted. But Facebook’s biggest problem isn’t arbitrary messages landing in inboxes – it’s determining whether our friends are real.

In an experiment run by online security firm Bit Defender, fake profiles were created and begun adding ‘friends’ on Facebook. Their accounts gained as many as 100 friends a day (any psychologists out there may be interested to note that accounts with an attractive female on the profile picture had the most success).

From there, mutual friends were added – and over half accepted the request, and once the firm started posting links to obscured destinations, over a quarter of Bit Defender’s new friends clicked through, exposing themselves to all kinds of danger.

Bit Defender’s may have been an experiment, but since May 2008 the website has been battling with Koobface, a Trojan horse that steals users personal data the moment it’s clicked on. Unlike the plethora of junk email that gets blocked, ignored and deleted however, Koobface is working – experts reckon it’s made a profit of $2million so far.

Despite the likes of Facebook and Twitter declaring their security through a personalised service, the new evolution of spam demands that ­– more than ever – you choose your friends wisely.

(Source: The Economist)

Image taken by Flickr user Esparta, licensed under Creative Commons.

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