Attacks by Online Offenders Now Directed at Social Networks

Because of the kind of information that is stored in the databases of social networks like MySpace, Friendster, or Facebook, cyber-criminals have started targeting these social networks to obtain invaluable data. Authorities in cyber-crime are now warning users and social network managers about the potential threat of breaches in the confidential information of their clients.

Information that cyber hackers are aiming to retrieve are individuals’ phone numbers, addresses, full names, birthdates, and employment details that are actually posted on many of these social networking sites. Social networking sites attract thousands of people to join in and get in touch with old friends and family members, or even to make new friends. This is one of the biggest attractions for hackers now since these online communities offer a wealth of personal data which can be used for a variety of defrauding schemes.

A security specialist, Asier Martinez, of Panda Security (a global IT solutions provider) states that there has already been a malicious virus circulating called Koobface (an anagram of Facebook). This has been is attacking thousands of Twitter and Facebook customer accounts since way back in August of 2008. The virus has been modified at least 4,000 times and has spread significantly through both Facebook and Twitter.

The way the vicious virus is designed is to lure site users away from the legitimate social networking website and make them open up malicious web pages with malware. This malware then begins to get illegal access into their computer system to steal confidential information like bank account and credit card data. One modification of the Koobface virus is a seemingly legitimate warning that their Flash player needs to be updated. The unsuspecting user would think this is legit and click on the banner which would then lead them to the malware-filled web page.

Social networks, like Facebook, have gone on the defensive and have shut down user accounts that are infected with Koobface, or have blocked access to the recorded malware pages. Laura Garcia, a popular blogger on cyber security, also suggests social network users to be careful who they accept as friends on their network. These might be hackers trying to gain access to user accounts.

Other vulnerable areas of social networks are the different games, personality quizzes, and horoscope pages that allow social networkers to play. These usually come up in the form of banners in social network sites. Hackers are beginning to use this ploy to lead users to fake pages filled with malware, ready to steal your personal information. Another is when links appear as birthday or holiday greetings where you click on a link to view a card or message. Even these are used to link unwary social network clients to malware sites.

Sophos, a security company, highlighted the social networking site vulnerabilities and potential threats attacking them. Many US-based companies are already disallowing employees from accessing these sites from the workplace to prevent malware from entering their computer systems. To date, Facebook has reported that at least one percent of its customers have had their accounts breached.

Laura Garcia expresses concern that with the increased use of social networking sites, there has also been an evolvement of the online offender’s modus operandi and profile. In the past, hackers were merely annoying juveniles trying to beat the system to portrayed as boast about their tech savvy, as portrayed in many past high-profile cases. However, today hackers are real, life-sized threats to online security that use it to defraud individuals, companies, and governments.

Online crime is now organized crime in places like Eastern Europe, Asia, and Russia. Stealing money online is a highly lucrative illegal business scheme. Martinez states that it has been proven that as simple investment in a hacker program to create malware-filled pages can give returns for the cyber-criminal from 20 to 800-fold.

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