January 31, 2010 5:26 pm

Attacks on social networking sites up 70%

Users of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have suffered a 70 per cent increase in spam and hacking attacks over the past year, as cybercriminals increasingly target the popular medium.

About 57 per cent of users say they have received spam messages via social networking sites, a 71 per cent rise on 2008, according to a study by Sophos, the IT security company.

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About 36 per cent of users say they have received malicious software code – malware – through the sites, a 70 per cent rise.

The figures echo revelations from Google last month that it had been a victim of a sophisticated hacking attack. Some of its employees and even their networks of friends were targeted by hackers looking for ways to infiltrate Google’s computer systems.

Hackers claiming to be Iranian activists hijacked Twitter in December and last year several high profile figures, including singer Britney Spears and President Barack Obama, had their accounts taken over.

Social network hacking is still growing at a slower rate than the sites themselves. Facebook last year increased its number of users by more than 600 per cent to more than 350m, while the number of Twitter users rose 2,800 per cent to 75m.

Security experts say hack attacks on social networks could be particularly dangerous because people are not on guard against them. Kaspersky Lab, the internet security company, estimated last year that attacks on social networks were 10 times more effective at spreading malware than attacks through e-mail.

“People are used to receiving spam and malware on e-mail, but are lulled into a greater sense of security on social networking sites, because they assume they are just getting messages from friends. They are more likely to open messages,” said Graham Cluely, senior technology consultant for Sophos.

For the past year, computer security companies have been warning of a computer worm called “Koobface” – an anagram of Facebook – which targets users of social networking sites in order to gather personal information such as credit card numbers.

Mr Cluely said computer programs were now able to create false social networking accounts automatically, complete with pictures and personal details, and then try to befriend others on the network to gain access to their details.

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