Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter allow us to communicate with friends and family, network with colleagues, and become connected to people who share a hobby or interest. But they also allow online scammers and spammers to get closer to us by utilizing the web of friendships and connections they create.
In fact, the popularity of social networks has given rise to new form of spam—this new type of spam is called “social spam,” and while you may not see it every day, you have probably seen it in posts such as this one: “Hey check out this link—FREE IPAD.” Social spam has grown quickly, impacting over 4 million users every day on Facebook alone. And it’s much more alluring for hackers, since social spam is distributed through our network of “friends” that as users we are much more likely to trust.
Social spam works like this: The hacker creates a phony profile on a site like Facebook. They then “friend” people they don’t know, and post tempting links, such as the one for the free iPad. When their friends click on the links, or click on an image that looks like their friend has “liked” something, the spam starts spreading across the social sites.
These links can lead to malicious software being downloaded on your computer or mobile device or hijacking your contacts and spamming them with other “offers” to continue propagating. It can even gather your personal information and then use this to steal your identity. Or they could take your money if you click on a link and enter your credit card on a fake site.
Social networking sites have anti-spam efforts in place and many of them also have staff whose jobs are dedicated to spam protection and similar user issues. But spammers remain one step ahead, so it is crucial that you protect yourself by following these social spam tips:
- If the offer looks too good to be true, it often is—don’t click on it.
- Use strong passwords that are different for each site and be sure to change them frequently.
- If a friend tweets or posts something that is out of character, it may not be them writing the post. If you’re concerned it might be spam, you can verify it with them—in a private message or offline communication—or simply ignore it.
- Don’t befriend strangers online—not everyone is who they say they are!
Of course, the best protection against social spam is to be aware and stay suspicious. If you see a message or post that is tempting you to click on it, remember that it could be a clever cyber scam.