Optimists often look for the most positive events over the year to attach to the label, The Year of…, realists however, take a different approach. And while 2012 is still young and holds a lot of promise, this year could very well be known as the year of social spam.
Social spam is nothing new. In fact, spam first infiltrated Internet bulletin boards in 1994 to mark the first major commercial spam campaign when Laurence Carter and Martha Siegel, a husband and wife team of lawyers, posted bulk messages to Usenet groups advertising their immigration law services in what became known as Green Card spam.
Social interaction on today’s Internet is far more sophisticated than the simple posting of messages and hyperlinks however. Nowadays, spammers turn to social networks and guise their spam as links, content, video, audio and executable files.
The nature of social spam has also changed as the platforms that deliver these messages have also developed over time.
No longer is spam only used to deliver advertising and marketing messages alone. With a more sophisticated field on which to play, spammers have used social sites to not only deliver their advertising, but also malware that: steals credit card numbers, captures user names and passwords and turns computers into zombies.
But if social spam has been a problem for so long, why would 2012 be any different? Take a look and see…
The Facebook Example
On January 4, 2012 the Wall Street Journal reported that social spam is on the rise and to combat this, social networks are hiring more staff to help fight this problem. Facebook was named specifically because according to reports, the volume of spam on Facebook is growing faster than its user base.
On Facebook, spam usually spreads when users are tricked into liking, and then sharing, content that is spam. This practice, known as like-jacking, usually works when a user’s computer is infected with malware that allows the spammer to take control of the user’s Facebook account.
The spammer then posts a message on your friend’s profile that would be interesting to others. Commonly, free dinner coupons are used as the bait as are offers for free iPads or other give aways.
When the user’s friends click on the free offer, they are instructed to download the coupons. These coupons actually contain malware that infects the computers of the user’s friends thus continuing the cycle.
Of course the malware does more than just spread itself via Facebook. It can be used to deliver Trojan horses, keystroke loggers, or any other type of malware.
And just how prevalent are these messages? By Facebook’s own admission, they block over 200 million malicious actions every day. In 2008 the company employed four engineers working to fight malicious use of their site. The same department today, named site integrity, now has 31 team members. Additionally, there are 46 people working on security 300 focused on user issues and over 1,000 others (engineers, lawyers, risk analysts, etc.) who help to fight spam on the site in other ways.
Others Not Immune
Of course other social networks and content sharing sites are hardly immune to the problem of social spam. Twitter has long been a hot bed for spammy posts created by malicious users.
Twitter, by nature, set itself up for spam from the very beginning. As a great way to share content to other like-minded users, Twitter allowed people to share short messages that were less than 140 characters long; short, sweet and to the point.
The problem is, no one really knows if http://bit.ly/3KmvyZ will take you to All Spammed Up or a malicious web site.
Google also out how quickly spam could infiltrate even a carefully planned social network.
Originally opened through an invite only process, Google+ users found the site a welcome break from other social sites that had turned into spam havens. Since early adopters were tech savvy, spam was quickly reported and accounts spewing spam were shut down.
Then came the public release and the ability to create business pages and spammy comments and shares began to fold the network causing one well known legitimate marketing professional to comment:
Wow, Google+ must be taking off. Spotted not one but two pieces of comment spam today.
As users find it easier than ever to share content with their friends and family, spammers will find it easier to manipulate this process. Because we have become so trusting of the content our “friends” share with us, we never consider the fact that what may be the coolest thing on someone’s wall may just wind up infecting our computer.