8 Dec 2008

Spam now leverages social networks

SpambotI've been getting spam lately purporting to be from a former co-worker. Apparently they harvested her MSN Messenger list – it impersonates her hotmail account and sends to my work account.

This was probably due to a virus which hijacked MSN messenger, it's a notoriously problematic service: between the service outages, trojans and viruses, its usefulness is debatable. But even as Microsoft gets its security act together a decade too late, the attack is inevitably shifting someplace else.

With social networking sites asking for email passwords to "import connections", people respond quickly. After all, they say it's safe, and you can always change your password later (but you don't). As it has been pointed out, as an industry we've trained people to type passwords, and that's what they do – whether it's a good idea or not, and that's why phishing is so successful. But once they have your contact list they can keep that forever, and it's a wonderful tool for a spammer.

Facebook and Twitter are unlikely to misuse this data too egregiously, they are connected to real money and companies with reputations to protect. But Pownce, which is going out of business – what about their data? And tacky little utilities like Twitterank which spam your stream, you'd better believe they're warehousing your connections. And your private messages. And everything else. You can put these things together and draw meaningful conclusions about the people involved.

Science fiction has been talking about spambots impersonating your family and friends for years, but now it's happening for real, and expect to see a whole hell of a lot more of it. Expect to start seeing requests from friends and family, asking for money through new and unfamiliar websites (or even familiar websites that have been compromised). Expect increasingly strange and subtle requests: you may not even know what they're really trying to get you to do, or why. In short, this is going to get deeply weird, really fast.


Scott said...

I can't wait to get a request from my brother for money to get his penis enlarged!

Chuck said...

The "hook" can be sponsor an inch. This idea has legs! Or maybe just a third leg!

Robert Campbell said...

Hey Chuck, good post. You know I always get emails from social networks like Gaia, Multiply, Lime etc where I'm a member telling me I have a new private message - inevitably the message is pro Buddhism dogma. There must be a temple cranking out digital acolytes.