May 16, 2012 at 6:40 PM ET
This Friday, Facebook will go public in one of the most anticipated IPOs in history. With more than 900 million users, Mark Zuckerberg’s expanding social media empire has become a seemingly irreplaceable part of the online experience. Unfortunately, a byproduct of its success is that millions of Americans are far more exposed to a number of cyber crimes that also teem on the site.
To be sure, cyber crimes have been occurring for some time, but the presence of social media has made many crimes much easier to commit. In social networks people make “friends” without knowing the person and make personal information easily available. And none of the networks present more opportunity to criminals than Facebook and its hundreds of millions of users. With this in mind, 24/7 Wall St. looked at some of the most common ways criminals use Facebook.
There are the nine ways criminals use Facebook — here are five. (You can read the rest at 24/7 Wall St.)
1. Hacking accounts
When criminals hack a Facebook account, they typically use one of several available “brute force” tools, Grayson Milbourne, Webroot’s manager of threat research for North America, told 24/7 Wall St. in an interview. These tools cycle through a common password dictionary, and try commonly used names and dates, opposite hundreds of thousands of different email IDs. Once hacked, an account can be commandeered and used as a platform to deliver spam, or — more commonly — sold. Clandestine hacker forums are crawling with ads offering Facebook account IDs and passwords in exchange for money. In the cyber world, information is a valuable thing.
2. Commandeering accounts
A more direct form of identity theft, commandeering occurs when the criminal logs on to an existing user account using an illegally obtained ID and password. Once they are online, they have the victim’s entire friend list at their disposal and a trusted cyber-identity. The impostor can use this identity for a variety of confidence schemes, including the popular London scam in which the fraudster claims to be stranded overseas and in need of money to make it home. The London scam has a far-higher success rate on Facebook — and specifically on commandeered accounts — because there is a baseline of trust between the users and those on their friends list.
3. Profile cloning
Profile cloning is the act of using unprotected images and information to create a Facebook account with the same name and details of an existing user. The cloner will then send friend requests to all of the victim’s contacts. These contacts will likely accept the cloner as a friend since the request appears to be from someone they’re familiar with. Once accepted, the crook has access to the target’s personal information, which they can use to clone other profiles or to commit fraud. As Milbourne puts it, “Exploiting a person’s account and posturing as that person is just another clever mechanism to use to extract information.” Perhaps what’s scariest about this kind of crime is its simplicity. Hacking acumen is unnecessary to clone a profile; the criminal simply needs a registered account.
4. Fake Facebook
A common form of phishing is the fake Facebook scam. The scammers direct users via some sort of clickable enticement, to a spurious Facebook log-in page designed to look like the real thing. When the victims enter their usernames and passwords, they are collected in a database, which the scammer often will sell. Once scammers have purchased a user’s information, they can take advantage of their assumed identity through apps like Facebook Marketplace and buy and sell a laundry list of goods and services. Posing as a reputable user lets the scammer capitalize on the trust that person has earned by selling fake goods and services or promoting brands they have been paid to advertise.
5. Mining unprotected info
Few sites provide an easier source of basic personal information than Facebook. While it is possible to keep all personal information on Facebook private, users frequently reveal their emails, phone numbers, addresses, birth dates and other pieces of private data. As security experts and hackers know, this kind of information is often used as passwords or as answers to secret security questions. While the majority of unprotected information is mined for targeted advertising, it can be a means to more pernicious ends such as profile cloning and, ultimately, identity theft.
Read the rest of the story, including four more ways criminals use Facebook, at 24/7 Wall St.
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