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Social networking cyber crimes- Part 1
By Sageetha Sridhar

Cyber crime in the Social media rising


Just like any other technology terror, victimization of members in social networking websites is on the rise and lack of adequate security mechanism in the deployment of these platforms compromises the security of its innocent users. After understanding the dynamics of users and cyber criminals in this context, we can also understand how the service providers are offering tools to manage security scams. 

Social media

Social networking websites promote active interactions between its users and foster communities to interact using a range of multimedia tools. Content in such sites is mainly user-generated and such content in the form of status updates, images, audio and video help to increase interactivity among family, friends, classmates, professionals, or groups of individuals with a common interest. Due to a concentration of community members, even businesses and governments have their corporate brand identity profile in such social networking sites, engaging with their clients and potential customers is casual dialog.

According to statistics, Facebook is the most visited social network, with nearly 1.2 billion visits in January 2009, with MySpace at the 2nd spot while Twitter on the 3rd place is growing rapidly at about 1,227% in just the 12 months.


Social challenge

The social networking sites are now attracting cyber criminals for reasons including, intellectual arrogance, financial motives and other covert intentions. While corporate post millions of damage due to security frauds and malware, individuals are threatened by a loss of their privacy, data, and most often their own identity. A mere hack into email account that has been active for quite a long time can cripple the ownerís communications as the hacker normally tends to change the password. Even if the password is only compromised, it is possible to misuse the stolen identity and use it for impropriate or fraudulent practices.

Complex technology systems have complicated security problems further. Security is now a multi-fold approach requiring companies to build secure systems and user to be aware and security scams and follow prudent guidelines. Social networking sites who cannot afford to lose their userís trust are also taking measures to avoid cyber crimes in their spheres.

A recent attack on the micro-blogging service, was launched through a software worm compromising thousands of user accounts. Once compromised, the userís confidential data and contacts can be sold in the dark market for its worth. Users of Facebook, MySpace and other social networks have also been targeted by phishing attacks forcing them to visit fake sites, whereby they are tricked into sharing their identity or land up being infected with malware.

Twitterjacking scams, hacked into several celebrity accounts, including that of Bill OíReilly, Barack Obama and Britney Spears. It is reputation damage when fake tweets are posted in stolen identities as it happened in the case of CNN anchor Rick Sanchez.

Facebook, Flickr and MySpace face several lawsuits for various privacy violations including illegal use of private album pictures for marketing purposes, exposure of email addresses, phishing scams, spam mails, etc.

Security Engineering

Security engineering is a sophisticated system of ensuring security in real-world IT systems, by assuring confidentiality, integrity, availability, authentication and non-repudiation. By these guiding principles, information pertaining to users is maintained confidential in such a manner that only those who are authorized can view / use it. There is good system to authenticate the identity of a user and clearly mark his permission for doing certain selected tasks. Despite all security measures in place the information, data or application is continues to be available to legitimate users. Once a communication or transaction is effected online, non-repudiation ensures that it cannot be refuted.

Social Engineering

Security solutions that was hitherto working well can now only resist technical attacks on systems and data, however the weakest link in the security chain being the people themselves, social engineering targets innocent victims to break security mechanisms in place. Fraudulent messages, impersonating emails, fake phone calls are some obvious modes that trick the naÔve users. Instead of painful technical attack, cyber criminals find social engineering attacks on people more rewarding with lesser efforts.

Potential threat

The user community posts plenty of personal information on these social networking sites customizing them for their network of friends. However as the Internet provides a sense of anonymity, several fraudsters create innocent profiles to befriend and penetrate into friendly networks. Inexperienced users, encouraged by the lack of physical communications, tend to divulge sensitive private information in these public platforms. Due to social pressure and encouraged by a false-sense of security, the insight some user offer into their private matters is of serious concern. There are fraudsters latching on to these fine details to launch more sophisticated attacks on the innocent victims. Young children if not inducted properly, can reveal plenty of private information about themselves and their parents online.

Further information on who is doing what and how to secure oneself while using these social networking websites will continue next week.

The author is a technology evangelist working as consultant at the Information Technology Authority of Oman and can be contacted at or through her blog at or on twitter at 

 Continued Page 02


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