Social networks haven for viruses, spyware, hackers: attacks on the rise

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The Independent Online

Data protection firms are warning consumers to be wary of the increasing security risks involved in using social networks.

According to a new report published on February 1 by security firm Sophos, there has been a 70 percent increase in malware and spam detected on social networks such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and LinkedIn during the last 12 months.

Cyber criminals have realized their focused attacks on social networks are paying off. Unwary social networkers are eager to check out the latest viral video sensation and will happily visit that link one of their "friends" posted on their wall. With that one swift click the cybercriminal has seduced the user into visiting a bogus link and their computer has inevitably been infected with a virus.

Increasing numbers of social networkers are falling victim to these types of scams.

"Computer users are spending more time on social networks, sharing sensitive and valuable personal information, and hackers have sniffed out where the money is to be made," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos. "The dramatic rise in attacks in the last year tells us that social networks and their millions of users have to do more to protect themselves from organized cybercrime, or risk falling prey to identity theft schemes, scams, and malware attacks."

Sixty-one percent of respondents believed that Facebook posed the biggest risk to security. MySpace Twitter and LinkedIn followed well behind with 18, 17 and 4 percent respectively.

"We shouldn't forget that Facebook is by far the largest social network - and you'll find more bad apples in the biggest orchard," explained Cluley.

"The truth is that the security team at Facebook works hard to counter threats on their site - it's just that policing 350 million users can't be an easy job for anyone. But there is no doubt that simple changes could make Facebook users safer. For instance, when Facebook rolled out its new recommended privacy settings late last year, it was a backwards step, encouraging many users to share their information with everybody on the internet."

More than 500 organizations took part in Sophos's 2010 Security Threat Report.

The full report can be downloaded from the Sophos website (PDF):