Security Bytes

Mar 27 2012   7:11PM GMT

Isolated Facebook attacks illustrate need for social media security

Robert Westervelt Robert Westervelt Profile: Robert Westervelt


Social networking security threats have taken a back seat to mobile security and targeted attacks directed at corporate networks in recent years. But there is news of two new Facebook attacks targeting users to spread spam and malware, and ultimately steal personal information, including account credentials.

A rogue Facebook application that lures the victim into using it to discover who has viewed their Facebook profile, has been detected on the social network. The application asks permission to access the profile and once granted, it begins posting to the victim’s wall, without explicit permission according to security firm Sophos.

The second Facebook attack is targeted at Brazilian users of Facebook. It uses malicious Google Chrome extensions that it presents as a tool to change the Facebook profile color or provide virus removal. Like the attack documented above, the tool can gain full control of the victim’s Facebook account, posting messages to spread spam and malware, according to a researcher at Kaspersky Lab.

The attacks are a reminder that enterprises need to have a social networking policy in place and should educate users about phishing and other threats designed to gain access to their Facebook account. If cybercriminals are attempting to steal account credentials from Facebook users, it’s very likely that a certain percentage of pilfered passwords are used for multiple accounts, including access to the victim’s corporate network.

Tom Cross, manager of threat intelligence and security on IBM’s X-Force team, told me it’s likely that well-funded and organized cyberattackers use social networks to design targeted social engineering attacks against enterprises. “You could get a comprehensive picture of an organization,” Cross said, by just examining an employee’s Facebook profile.

In addition, IBM’s 2011 X-Force Trend and Risk report, issued last week, found automated attacks moving to social networking platforms. “Frauds and scams that were successful years ago via email found new life on the social media forums,” according to the report. Attackers are designing phishing campaigns, typically phony friend requests, made to look like they were sent from social networks.

Malicious activity on Facebook is being constantly monitored by security vendors and Facebook’s internal security team, but attackers are still slipping through. Last October, Facebook released security data (.pdf) that shed light into malicious activity on the network. The company said it classifies 4% of the content shared on Facebook as spam. Of the spam, a tiny percentage is being used to direct users to malicious websites. Facebook says one in 200 users experience spam on any given day.

The most telling of all the statistics released by Facebook: About .06% of the more than 1 billion Facebook user logins each day are compromised. That means that 600,000 Facebook users have their accounts compromised each day. Facebook doesn’t define a “compromised account,” but acknowledged to Ars Technica that the statistic stems from accounts that are blocked if Facebook is not confident that the true owner logged in. They were likely the victim of a phishing scam, the Facebook spokesperson said.

Few people probably realize that Facebook offers a one-time-password service to users as well as an ID verification service that will send a text message to verify that the user login is genuine. Websense is one of several security vendors that partners with Facebook to provide URL filtering. The company also sells a Defensio Facebook monitoring service, kind of a content filtering engine that can detect spam and malicious content posted to an account.

Charles Renert, the new head of the Websense Security Labs, told me that most attackers are sticking to email, using it as a lure to send victim’s to malicious webpages. But phishing is shifting to Twitter, Facebook and other social networking platforms. Malicious links posted on Facebook lure the victim into thinking it’s a popular viral video, but then redirects them to a website hosting malware. Other links are less malicious, but still objectionable, Renert said. They send victims to spam sites peddling porn, pharmaceuticals and other items that the victim didn’t intend to see, he said. “They’re exploiting the trust element,” Renert said.

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