Hugely popular social networking site Facebook has come under attack from hackers trying to steal your personal information. An expert explains why the threat is growing and what can be done to stop it.
Experts fear the attacks are a testing ground for a potentially much deeper and more dangerous offensive by cyber criminals.
Rik Ferguson of internet security company Trend Micro said it was time people stopped thinking about virus writers as "spotty teenage bedroom coders" - and woke up to the fact that internet viruses represent organised crime at its most dangerous.
Mr Ferguson told FRANCE 24 he believes the attacks on Facebook are a "proof of concept" exercise by the virus writers who are looking for an opportunity to launch large scale attacks on social networking sites like Facebook.
"These virus writers are trying to take advantage of the inherent trust people have for their friends, in a way that traditional email spammers simply can't," he said.
The hacks work by displaying fake messages purporting to be from friends or as one of the many new applications that are created for the social networking site.
Examples include messages saying "you look very good in this video" - which takes you to a fake YouTube, complete with a picture of your contact.
Others display messages including "Error - check system", "Facebook is closing down!!!", and "Bigger than MySpace".
When you click on these links, Mr Ferguson explained, the hackers have the potential to get access to your email address, telephone numbers, sexual orientation and political views - all the information users like to share with their online friends.
“This information can be used for targeted phishing attacks against companies and individuals,” he said. “If you can assume someone’s identity and pretend to be someone else, it is much easier to get sensitive information out of others.
“Hackers can also get key loggers onto your system, which will record user names and passwords. The criminals are particularly looking for banking information and more and more they are interested in gambling sites, where huge amounts of money is changing hands.
"But the attacks on Facebook have so far been fairly obvious.
"The danger is that the hackers will start creating applications that are actually useful and become popular quickly.
"If these spread and gain widespread popularity, there is potential for data theft on a vast scale.
"If you get a message from a friend that doesn't look right, tell them to change their password and to run a full virus scan.
"Don't click on anything that seems out of place."
Education, Mr Ferguson believes, is the key to winning the battle against the criminals constantly looking to exploit our willingness to communicate on the internet.
"The next generation of internet users has to move beyond just using the internet," he said.
"They have got to be aware of the risks and they have got to know how use the internet safely."
Date created : 2009-03-04