Dispelling The Myths Of Facebook Privacy And Security

There are many misconceptions about the security of Facebook, Facebook applications, and the frequent scams that seem to plague the world’s largest social network.  To help set the record straight, I would like to shed a bit of reality on the most common myths about Facebook security and privacy today. These are real examples of statements that I have encountered regarding Facebook and their privacy controls and security measures.  Some have surprising truth to them and others are completely false and misleading.  I’ve broken these myths into three areas: Facebook applications, privacy, and security myths. 

Facebook To Facebook’s credit, Facebook has made considerable strides over the last few years by implementing new security and privacy controls as well as getting the Facebook security team more visible.  Some of the newer implementations, such as full site SSL and social authentication, will continue to improve the security of Facebook.  Unfortunately, many of these myths will still persist.  This is because users will believe what they want to believe despite new controls and efforts being put in place by Facebook.

Facebook Application Myths

Myth: All Facebook applications are created and managed by Facebook.
Facebook applications are not developed or maintained by Facebook.  They are all developed, maintained, and managed by third-party companies.  Facebook simply provides an API (Application Programming Interface) for developers to “interact” with Facebook and its data.  For example, Farmville is created by the company Zynga.  Zynga only uses the Facebook API to interact with Facebook.  One common misconception is that these applications “look and feel” like they are part of Facebook so the applications can be trusted.  This is not true.  The Facebook API is designed to allow seamless integration so it provides users with a more integrated Facebook experience. To make matters worse, Facebook recently announced that they will now allow iframes within page tab applications.  This means that a malicious developer can easily do things like redirect users to malicious web sites or use JavaScript to do a host of other things to the user.

Myth: Facebook reviews all applications for security vulnerabilities, scams, or frauds.
In general it would be very difficult with Facebook’s current application developer model to review the code for all Facebook applications.  According to Facebook’s official statistics, people on Facebook install 20 million applications every day and according to an older statistics page I found dated November 2010 there were approximately 550,000 active applications.  This is an extremely large amount of applications to check for security issues.  This problem also becomes more challenging when developers release new code or updates to existing applications.  How is Facebook currently addressing this issue?  Facebook made a statement in this recent InformationWeek article talking about how they review applications.  Facebook claimed to have a dedicated security team that “does robust review of all third-party applications, using a risk-based approach.”

“That means that we first look at velocity, number of users, types of data shared, and prioritize,” the statement read. “This ensures that the team is focused on addressing the biggest risks, rather than just doing a cursory review at the time that an app is first launched.”

In other words, they look at applications that fall into specific categories because it would be near impossible to check every single application.  There is also no mention if Facebook conducts a code review of applications selected for review.  The bad news, of course, is that once Facebook shuts down one rogue, malicious application another one is easily right behind it to take its place.

Myth: Facebook applications don’t have typical web security flaws.
  Facebook applications can be developed insecurely just like any other web based application.  In fact, in 2009 security researcher theharmonyguy conducted the “Month of Facebook Bugs” exposing security flaws in many of the popular Facebook applications at the time.  These flaws included XSS (Cross-Site Scripting) which can be used to attack the users of applications, SQLi (SQL Injection) which can be used to extract personal or private information from the database of applications, and ClickJacking or LikeJacking which can be used to initiate actions without the user’s knowledge. 

Myth: Facebook is responsible for any information you provide to Facebook or third-party applications.
This is a tricky one.  At the end of the day, you’re responsible for what you post and any information you provide Facebook or third-party applications.  There is no guarantee that Facebook or third-party application developers will not misuse or sell your information.  This has happened in the recent past.

Myth: Facebook allows developers to do whatever they want with their applications and can collect your personal information.
Facebook has certain policies that you can read for yourself about what a developer can or can’t do.  It’s important to note that Facebook used to be more restrictive with these rules in the past.  For example, application developers could only keep personal data collected for 24 hours.  Facebook has now removed this restriction and has relaxed many other policies so it’s easier for developers to integrate with Facebook.  Having said that, it’s hard for Facebook to truly “enforce” these policies unless a malicious application is reviewed by them or it’s reported to the Facebook security team.  It’s a battle that is going to be very hard to win based on the current way Facebook allows applications to be developed.

Facebook Privacy Myths

Myth: Facebook reviews all third-party companies that collect your personal information.
In certain cases like when your friends visit an “Instant Personalization” partner like Yelp and the third party can see your information the Facebook privacy policy states that “we require these websites and applications to go through an approval process, and to enter into separate agreements designed to protect your privacy.”  What that means is up for debate but what we do know is that you should be cautious when using Instant Personalization as you may be revealing information about your friends as well.

Myth: Facebook takes user privacy seriously.
Facebook will try to tell you that they do take your privacy seriously as noted in their privacy policy.  However, Facebook also has a vested interest in collecting your information.  After all, it’s how they make money.  Double edged sword?  It certainly is!  The more information you share the more valuable you are to Facebook.  You should always take your privacy on Facebook seriously as they may not always have your best interest at heart.

Myth: Facebook has very little privacy controls.
This is false.  In fact, Facebook has made great strides over the years in providing its user base with easier to use privacy controls.  I’ve seen this myself while putting together my Facebook Privacy & Security Guide over the years.  The problem has become that many users don’t know where these settings are or how to use them.  Facebook also hasn’t done a great job of communicating changes to privacy settings in the past.  Users of Facebook and computer users in general have become immune to pop-ups and hard to read sign-in notifications.  It’s simply become easier for users to just “click through” so they can get to what they want in Facebook.

Myth: Facebook makes it easy for users to delete their accounts.
The truth is that the process of deleting your Facebook account has gotten only slightly better over the years but still remains a confusing one.  For example, here is one guide that walks you through the procedure.  Facebook still has account “deactivation” as the first step in the account deletion process, which many users still find confusing.  Many users are also confused between “deactivation” and “deletion.”  Others think that by successfully deleting their account all the information including pictures they posted are removed from Facebook forever.  While Facebook may say they remove all of your information, you still can’t stop others from copying it or saving those party pictures of you to their hard drive.  The rule to remember is that once you post something on Facebook, you should always think of it as public information.

Facebook Security Myths

Myth: Facebook scams are mostly variations of the same one over the years.
Many of the Facebook scams found are simple variations of text messaging, promotion give-a-ways (iPads, iPods [insert latest hot gadget here]), who visited your profile (ProfileSpy), and improvements to existing Facebook services like chat and instant messaging.  In fact, one scam I blogged about over a year ago is still being used today.  The basic rule to remember is that if something is popular in our culture, such as tech products that everyone wants, it’s most likely going to be used for scams and frauds.  Remember the old rule: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Myth: I can’t get a virus or malware by using Facebook
  All it takes is clicking on a malicious link from one of your friends, installing a rogue application, or falling for one of the many scams that offer “free” stuff.  Facebook is doing a better job of cleaning up malicious links and other related activity.  However, the Koobface worm and associated variants are still a problem and adapt well to attempts by Facebook to rid them from the platform.

Myth: I can trust my friends on Facebook because they would never send me anything malicious.
It’s always nice to trust your friends but this gets complicated on Facebook.  Social Network worms such as Koobface as well as hijacked or stolen accounts are frequently used to social engineer Facebook users to click on a link or send money to foreign countries.  All of these scams exploit the trust relationships that you have with people you know.  It’s a simple and highly effective technique that’s still being used today.

Myth: Facebook does not have a security team or a way to report security issues/SPAM/scams.
Contrary to popular belief, Facebook does have a security team and ways to report security and privacy issues.  In the past, many of these types of requests would have met the infamous “Facebook Blackhole” in which emails or support requests were never answered.  Recently, there have been many improvements to help communicate the presence of this team.  For example, you can “like” the Facebook security page, report a compromised account, learn how to report security vulnerabilities, as well as get good tips on what to do when you see security issues.

Can enterprises use private social media tools for secure collaboration internally?

We know that many organizations are using open source Wiki software and platforms (e.g. Mediawiki) to do collaboration internally without exposing their systems to 600 million other users. But are there any other tools that enterprises can use to mimic the real-time connectivity of social networking sites like Facebook internally?

Why would a business want private social networking tools? Isn’t that an oxymoron?

I believe that enterprises can and will eventually begin to use “internal” or “private” social networks to allow for easier real-time collaboration, while avoiding some of the risks of the “public” social networks – such as social engineering attacks, Koobface attacks, etc. I’d really like to learn more about what the options are for businesses to deploy their own social media tools internally, or in a private cloud. Internal deployments would probably tend to be more secure, with potentially more control over access and authentication of users. But a cloud-based implementation by a trusted service provider might also be quite secure. Either way, the facility would be less of an easy target for attackers.

Have you seen or heard of such a thing? If so, where can I learn more about them? Doing a Google search turns up many hits, but I’d like to hear about some success stories and reviews of these kinds of solutions that could benefit the members of the Streetwise Security Zone as we try to figure out how to leverage the power of social media, in a secure and efficient way.

Also, what are your thoughts? What would it take for enterprises to be able to use social networks and social media tools securely? 

I am now offering monthly briefings, tailored to organizations that want to build and sustain security awareness for staff. Just because your security team is too busy to do its own training and awareness doesn’t mean you can’t have an economical way to address human security risks. Please call or email me at the coordinates below…

Scott Wright

The Streetwise Security Coach

Join the Streetwise Security Zone at:

Phone: 1-613-693-0997
Email: scott@streetwise-security-zone.com
Twitter ID: http://www.twitter.com/streetsec

To receive weekly security tips and other notices about helpful content available on this site, please make sure you are on my list by clicking HERE, and entering your name and email address.



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Looking at Facebook’s Strategy and Possible New Directions

Over the last few months, Facebook has rolled out several significant new features, such as Places and the updated Groups. On Monday, Facebook is holding another event to announce what many expect to be an improved messaging feature. As I’ve watched these changes, I’ve been thinking about where Facebook might be headed.

At first, I started to think Facebook was simply looking to extend its reach by acting as an invisible layer of sorts. Anil Dash once talked about Facebook melting into the larger Web, but perhaps Facebook would end up becoming part of the underlying fabric of the Internet. In past public appearances, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg seemed to be the kind of person who was content to remain in the background, and the company’s strategy seemed to reflect a similar style. I’ve mentioned before the idea of Facebook becoming and identity layer on the Internet, and innovations such as their Graph API have made it easier than ever for sites to integrate with Facebook.

But Facebook’s updated Groups feature changed my perspective, since it added functionality that would drive users back to facebook.com. Of course, the upgrade did enable e-mail as a way of interacting with groups. In some ways, Facebook’s overall strategy could be compared to Google’s. Years ago, many sites focused on “stickiness,” trying to keep users hooked. By contrast, Google drove users away by providing relevant links to other sites. But to see Google as non-sticky would be an oversimplification. In fact, the company built a successful ad network that extended its reach across the web. Also, Google has created a number of other products that many people stay logged into, such as Gmail.

And now, people are expecting Facebook to announce a web-based e-mail client that will compete with Gmail. I’m predicting that Facebook will roll out a new messaging system, but it won’t be a Gmail clone or simply another client for managing traditional POP/IMAP e-mail. That’s not to say there won’t be any e-mail gateway, but I think Facebook’s plans will go much further. I’m guessing that at least part of the new system will involve somehow extending private messaging features across Facebook-integrated websites.

In any event, I think Facebook’s announcement will include at least a few surprises for those who have been discussing the possibilities. Facebook has a history of introducing features that aren’t quite what people expected – and often end up leading to practical implementations of ideas that were previously niche experiments. Personally, I think it’s a bit short-sighted to think that Facebook would simply join the market for web-based e-mail without trying to reinvent it, especially given the service’s cautiousness about past features that allowed or potentially allowed spam-like behaviors.

Facebook has also been accused many times of somehow standing in opposition to “openness.” Personally, I think the term has become a buzzword that’s often used without much specificity. And even though I’ve often been a critic of Facebook, I do think many of the accusations aren’t entirely fair. From RSS feeds to developer APIs, Facebook has opened up data in ways that many other sites can’t claim. Today’s Facebook is certainly far more “open” that years ago – in fact, I would argue that the site has at times been too open lately, such as when some user data became reclassified as “publicly available” last fall. But regardless of Facebook’s degree of openness, the company has always been careful to maintain a high degree of control over information and features on the site. This can be positive, such as quickly removing malware links, or negative, such as controversial decisions to bar users or certain content.

Either way, that control has helped the site build a powerful database of profiles that generally reflects real people and real relationships. That’s part of what fascinated me about the site’s recent spat with Google over contact information. In the past, a list of e-mail addresses was about the only semi-reliable way to identify a group of people across the Internet. Now, many sites rely on Facebook’s social graph for that function. In terms of identity, the value of e-mail addresses has declined, and I don’t think exporting them from Facebook would provide as much value as Google might think. On the other hand, Google may realize this and be so concerned about the shift that they’re trying to curb Facebook’s influence. This would especially make sense if Google intends to introduce a more comprehensive social networking product that would need e-mail addresses as a starting point. Regardless, I’m sure Google feels threatened by the prospect of Facebook providing a better alternative to traditional e-mail – a change that would only bolster the value of a Facebook profile as the primary way to identify a typical Internet user.

Thoughts on the Wall Street Journal’s Facebook Investigation

A front-page story in last Monday’s Wall Street Journal declared a “privacy breach” of Facebook information based on an investigation conducted by the paper. The Journal found that third-party applications using the Facebook Platform were leaking users’ Facebook IDs to other companies, such as advertising networks.

The report generated controversy across the Web, and some reactions were strongly negative. On TechCrunch, Michael Arrington dismissed the article as alarmist and overblown. Forbes’ Kashmir Hill surveyed other responses, including a conversation on Twitter between Jeff Jarvis and Henry Blodget, and expressed skepticism over the Journal’s tone.

I’ve been a bit surprised by the degree to which some have written off the Journal’s coverage. Some may disagree with the label of “privacy breach,” but I thought the report laid out the issues well and did not paint the problem as a conspiracy on the part of Facebook or application developers. Either way, I’m glad to see that the article has sparked renewed conversation about shortcomings of web applications and databases of information about web users. Also, many may not realize that information leakage on the Facebook Platform has historically been even worse.

Information leakage via a referrer is not a new problem and can certainly affect other websites. But that doesn’t lessen the significance of the behavior observed in the WSJ investigation. Privacy policies are nearly always careful to note that a service does not transfer personally identifiable information to third parties without consent. Online advertising networks often stress the anonymity of their tracking and data collection. The behavior of Facebook applications, even if unintentional, violated the spirit of such statements and the letter of Facebook’s own policies.

Some people downplayed the repercussions of such a scenario on the basis that it did not lead to any “private” profile information being transferred to advertisers – a point Facebook was quick to stress. Yet when did that become the bar for our concept of acceptable online privacy? Should other services stop worrying about anonymizing data or identifying users, since now we should only be concerned about “private” content instead of personally identifiable information? Furthermore, keep in mind that Facebook gets to define what’s considered private information in this situation – and that definition has changed over the last few years. At one time in the not-too-distant past, even a user’s name and picture could be classified as private.

Many reactions have noted that a Facebook user’s name and picture are already considered public information, easily accessed via Facebook’s APIs. Or as a Facebook spokesmen put it, “I don’t see from a logic standpoint how information available to anyone in the world with an Internet connection can even be ‘breached.’” But this argument fails to address the real problem with leaked IDs in the referrer. The issue was not simply what data applications were leaking, but when and how that data was leaked. The problem was not that advertisers could theoretically figure out your name given an ID number – it’s that they were given a specific ID number at the moment a user accessed a particular page. Essentially, advertisers and tracking networks were able to act as if they were part of Facebook’s instant personalization program. Ads could have theoretically greeted users by name – the provider could connect a specific visit with a specific person.

Interestingly enough, many past advertisements in Facebook applications did greet users by name. Some ads also including names and pictures of friends. Facebook took steps several times to quell controversies that arose from such tactics, but I’m not sure many people understood the technical details that enabled such ads. Rather than simply leak a user’s ID, applications were actually passing a value called the session secret to scripts for third-party ad networks.

With a session secret, such networks could (and often did) make requests to the Facebook API for private profile information of both the user and their friends, or even private content, such as photos. Typically, this information was processed client-side and used to dynamically generate advertisements. But no technical limitations prevented ad networks from modifying their code to retrieve the information. In fact, a number of advertisements did send back certain details, such as age or gender.

Change to the Facebook Platform, such as the introduction of OAuth earlier this year, have led to the deprecation of session secrets and removed this particular problem. I’m not sure how much this sort of information leakage or similar security problems motivated the changes, but problems with session secrets certainly persisted quite a while prior to them. If the WSJ had conducted their study a year ago, the results could have been even more worrying.

Still, I’m glad that the Journal’s research has led many to look more closely at the issues they raised. First, the story has drawn attention to more general problems with web applications. Remember, the Web was originally designed for accessing static pages of primarily textual information, not the sort of complex programs found in browsers today. (HTML 2.0 didn’t even have a script tag.) Data leaking via referrers or a page’s scripts all having the same scope are problems that go beyond Facebook apps and will likely lead to more difficulties in the future if not addressed.

Second, people are now investigating silos of information collected about website visitors, such as RapLeaf’s extensive database. Several responses to the Journal piece noted that many such collections of data provide far more detail on web users and are worthy of greater attention. I agree that they deserve scrutiny, and now reporters at the Journal seem to be helping in that regard as well.

We’ve entered an age where we can do things never previously possible. Such opportunities can be exciting and clearly positive, but others could bring unintended consequences. I think the availability and depth of information about people now being gathered and analyzed falls into the latter category. Perhaps we will soon live in a world where hardly any bit of data is truly private, or perhaps we will reach a more open world through increased sharing of content. But I think it well worth our time to stop and think about the ramifications of technological developments before we simply forge ahead with them.

Over the last few years, I’ve tried to bring attention to some of the issues relating to the information Facebook collects and uses. They’re certainly not the only privacy issues relevant to today’s Internet users, and they may not be the most important. But I think they do matter, and as Facebook grows, their importance may increase. Similarly, I think it wrong to dismiss the Journal’s investigation as “complete rubbish,” and I look forward to the rest of the dialogue they’ve now generated.

Two New Social Media Security White Papers Released

My employer (SecureState) has released two white papers as part of our Social Media Security Awareness Month.  You can also download some cool wallpaper for this month created by Rob our graphic designer (see the picture on the right).  🙂

First is some research several of my colleagues and I worked on.  The paper is titled: “Profiling User Passwords on Social Networks”.  The paper discusses the password problem that we all know and love as well as how you can determine passwords by what individuals post on their profiles.  We dive into tools from Robin Wood, Mark Baggett and others that can be used to pull keywords from profiles and other sources to create wordlists.  These wordlists can be used for brute force attacks on user accounts.  Next, we look at password complexity of several popular social networks with some research around brute force controls that some of the social networks have implemented, or in some cases haven’t.  Lastly, we discuss some things that users of social networks can do when choosing passwords.  You can download my paper here.

The other paper released is titled: “Security Gaps in Social Media Websites for Children Open Door to Attackers Aiming To Prey On Children” by my colleague Scott White.  In his paper he looks at the security of social media websites specifically designed for children.  This is some very detailed research and sheds some light on how predators are using these sites to target children as well as some issues that are unique to these types of social media websites.  You can download Scott’s paper here.

Speaking of social media…I’ll be presenting “Social Impact: Risks and Rewards of Social Media” at the Information Security Summit this Friday at 10am.  I’ll have the slide deck posted shortly after the conference.

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Instant Personalization Program Gets New Partner, Security Issue

Facebook announced last week that movie information site Rotten Tomatoes would join Docs.com, Pandora, and Yelp as a partner in the social networking service’s “instant personalization” program. Rotten Tomatoes will now be able to automatically identify and access public information for visitors logged in to Facebook, unless those users have opted out of the program. This marks the first new partner since Facebook launched the feature earlier this year.

Soon after that initial roll-out, security researchers noted vulnerabilities on Yelp’s website that allowed an attacker to craft pages which would hijack Yelp’s credentials and gain the same level of access to user data. TechCrunch writer Jason Kincaid reported on the cross-site scripting (XSS) holes, and made this prediction: “I suspect we’ll see similar exploits on Facebook partner sites in the future.”

Kincaid’s suspicions have now been confirmed, as the latest site with instant personalization also had an exploitable XSS vulnerability, which has now been patched. I’ll quickly add that Flixster, the company behind Rotten Tomatoes, has always been very responsive when I’ve contacted them about security issues. They have assured me that they have done XSS testing and prevention, which is more than could be said for many web developers. In posting about this issue, I primarily want to illustrate a larger point about web security.

When I heard about the expansion of instant personalization, I took a look at Rotten Tomatoes to see if any XSS problems might arise. I found one report of an old hole, but it appeared to be patched. After browsing around for a bit, though, I discovered a way I could insert some text into certain pages. At first it appeared that the site properly escaped any characters which could lead to an exploit. But ironically enough, certain unfiltered characters affected a third-party script used by the site in such a way that one could then execute arbitrary scripts. Since I had not seen this hole documented anywhere, I reported it to Rotten Tomatoes, and they promptly worked to fix it.

I’ve long argued that as more sites integrate with Facebook in more ways, we’ll see this type of problem become more common. Vulnerable applications built on the Facebook Platform provided new avenues for accessing and hijacking user accounts; now external websites that connect to Facebook open more possible security issues. As Kincaid noted in May, “Given how common XSS vulnerabilities are, if Facebook expands the program we can likely expect similar exploits. It’s also worth pointing out that some large sites with many Facebook Connect users – like Farmville.com or CNN – could also be susceptible to similar security problems. In short, the system just isn’t very secure.”

Overcoming such weaknesses is not a trivial matter, though, especially given the current architecture of how scripts are handled in a web page. Currently, any included script has essentially the same level of access and control as any other script on the page, including malicious code injected via an XSS vulnerability. If a site uses instant personalization, injected scripts can access the data used by Facebook’s code to enable social features. That’s not Facebook’s fault, and it would be difficult to avoid in any single sign-on infrastructure.

Of course, all of this applies to scripts intentionally included in the page as well, such as ad networks. With the Rotten Tomatoes roll-out, Facebook made clear that “User data is never transferred to ad networks.” Also, “Partner sites follow clear product/security/privacy guidelines,” and I assume Facebook is monitoring their usage. I’m not disputing any of these claims – Facebook is quite correct that advertisers are not getting user data.

But that’s due to policy limitations, not technical restrictions. Rotten Tomatoes includes a number of scripts from external sources for displaying ads or providing various functions. Any of these scripts could theoretically access a Facebook user’s information, though it would almost certainly be removed in short order. I did find it interesting that an external link-sharing widget on the site builds an array of links on the page, including the link to a user’s Facebook profile. This happens client-side, though, and the data is never actually transferred to another server.

I bring up these aspects simply to note the technical challenges involved in this sort of federated system. I think it’s very possible that we will eventually see ad network code on a Facebook-integrated site that tries to load available user data. After all, I’ve observed that behavior in many Facebook applications over the last few years – even after Facebook issued explicit policies against such hijacking.

These dangers are part of the reason why JavaScript guru Douglas Crockford has declared security to be the number one problem with the World Wide Web today. Crockford has even advocated that we halt HTML5 development and focus on improving security in the browser first. While that won’t likely happen, I think Crockford’s concerns are justified and that many web developers have yet to realize how dangerous cross-site scripting can be. Perhaps these issues with instant personalization sites will help increase awareness and understanding of the threat.

Postscript: This morning, an XSS vulnerability on Twitter led to script-based worms (somewhat reminiscent of “samy is my hero”) and general havoc across the site. This particular incident was not related to any mashups, but once again emphasizes the real-world security ramifications of cross-site scripting in a world of mainstream web applications.

Update (Sep. 27): Today news broke that Scribd had also become part of Facebook’s Instant Personalization program. I took a look at the site and discovered within minutes that it has a quite trivial XSS vulnerability. This particular issue should have been obvious given even a basic understanding of application security. It also indicates that Facebook is not doing much to evaluate the security of new instant personalization partners. Update 2: Scribd patched the most obvious XSS issue right about the time I updated this post: entering HTML into the search box brought up a page that loaded it unfiltered. Another search issue remained, however: starting with a closing script tag would still affect code later in the results page. After about half an hour, that problem was also patched. I’m glad Scribd moved so quickly to fix these problems, but I still find it disconcerting they were there to start with. I’ve not done any further checking for other XSS issues.

Link Hygiene – the same old risks apply to newly launched services like Ping for iTunes

As each major player in today’s technology and Web-connected world makes a move to get a bigger piece of the social networking pie, they take on new risks they haven’t seen before. But if they only looked around, they’d be able to see and learn from the mistakes of others.

This week Apple launched “Ping”, a new social network that serves the iTunes community. But they don’t seem to have learned much from those that have ventured into this space before them. The Ping forums are being bombarded with spam posts containing phishing links. As blogger Chester Wisniewski, from antivirus maker Sophos points out, “Did they not see this coming?” (click HERE).

While Apple should have anticipated the problems, and tried a bit harder to protect legitimate users from this unwanted content, my advice to users is the same as for any social network: Use good link hygiene.

What is Good Link Hygiene?

Link hygiene is something we all need to practice on a daily basis, whether it’s while we’re reading Email or browsing social networks. It’s about avoiding the risks associated with malicious sites and content, as well as malicious file attachments.

There are many different ways in which hackers and scammers can trick you into giving them access to valuable information and computer resources.

Here are four of the nine items I teach people to check for when it comes to link hygiene which can reduce the risks of becoming a victim from malicious content in Email and websites:

1) Are your Email configuration options set to disable previewing of content or loading of images?

2) Is your computer’s operating system and application software (e.g. browser, Adobe Reader) up to date?

3) Do you have a reputable anti-malware product with up to date patches and virus signatures on your computer?

4) Do you know what your anti-malware product’s alerts look like, so you can recognize most fake virus alerts?

 So, Apple – as well as other social networks – should take some blame for allowing their social network to become polluted with malicious content. However, it’s almost impossible for sites to eliminate these risks entirely. It’s up to us, the users, to stay vigilant, and know how to avoid becoming a victim.

If you’re a Business Premium member of the Streetwise Security Zone, you can download the PDF version of this month’s coaching content on Link Hygiene by clicking HERE. This lesson includes a discussion of the various ways in which hackers and spammers try to trick you into going to malicious sites or entering sensitive information into fake forms.

I am now offering monthly briefings, tailored to organizations that want to build and sustain security awareness for staff. Just because your security team is too busy to do its own training and awareness doesn’t mean you can’t have an economical way to address human security risks. Please call or email me at the coordinates below…

Scott Wright

The Streetwise Security Coach

Join the Streetwise Security Zone at:

Phone: 1-613-693-0997
Email: scott@streetwise-security-zone.com
Twitter ID: http://www.twitter.com/streetsec

To receive weekly security tips and other notices about helpful content available on this site, please make sure you are on my list by clicking HERE, and entering your name and email address.



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Hacking Your Location With Facebook Places

I just published a post over on the SecureState blog about how to hack your location using Facebook Places.  The post brings up some interesting questions about how social networks are going to have a problem with fake location check-in’s. In the meantime, it’s a way to have fun with your friends…:-)

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