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Trick or Tweet? The Vulnerabilities Inherent to Twitter and All Social Networks

By Hector Cisneros
Courtesy of Pixabay

You may have read that LinkedIn was hacked last year. Twitter was recently hacked, and then it happened  to Facebook as well. Whose turn is it next?  In this article, we will look at the inherent vulnerabilities of all social networks, as well as what can happen should your account get compromised.  We will also discuss how vulnerable your data is on social sites and what you need to do to keep from being hacked, when it's your turn to answer the question, “Trick or 'Tweet?'"

The Problem is Real

“Twitter Hacked: 250k accounts affected” #secu...
“Twitter Hacked: 250k accounts affected” #security #socialmedia / SML.20130202.SC.PublicMedia.Twitter.Hacked (Photo credit: See-ming Lee 李思明 SML)
With the advent and mass adoption of social networking, we have created a revolution in the connectivity that people are experiencing from around the world. However, with this benefit come widespread vulnerabilities and attacks from unscrupulous organizations and evil doers. Criminals, con artist and other black hat hackers are exploiting the same openness that this connecting has brought forth.

Two Exploits That need to be Plugged

These nefarious criminals primarily exploit these social nets in two ways. The first is by means of specialized hacker code designed to gain access to, or install itself on an unsuspecting user's computer, tablet or smart phone. The second means of exploitation is the use of social interaction to gain a person's personal information. This is achieved by interacting and engaging with the victims as if they were their friend, family member or coworker.  In many cases these two techniques are used together to gain access or control to the unsuspecting users' internet connected device.

We All Pay for This

The cost to society is extensive. Cost can be measured as lost revenue for a business and its advertisers. A loss of a subscriber also cost money.  Acquiring new subscribers and retaining them is always a major cost to any business. Fraud prevention and security cost are high and fraud recovery costs cannot often be measured accurately. The annual cost to the world at large is in the billions. It's often hard to get accurate statistics because most of the fraud is tracked by category, (mobile, viruses, Trojans, phishing, drive by, website impersonation, etc.…) and most don’t combine their statistic preferring to list them separately.  Reported Internet scams in the USA top 485 million in 2010. The last worldwide figures I could find were with which reported 2.6 billion in 2004. That article also went on to say that, annual increases were coming in at 700 million dollars a year. That would put the current worldwide fraud rate at approximately 6 billion dollars in 2013.

A 2011 ComScore report estimated that anywhere from 2.7 to 10.1% was the worldwide website fraud rate. The article went on further to point out that if we assume a 6% average rate that 72 million users are at risk of becoming fraud victims’ in the USA alone.

Who’s Getting Hacked?
Courtesy of Wikipedia

The sad and scary reality today is that anyone can be hacked. Any company, any bank, any government, agency, and any individual's data and identity can be stolen. The FBI and the NSA recently announced a security breach. Several large banking institutions internet accounts have been recently compromised. This article was written because several of the largest social media networks were recently hacked. Several prominent corporate subscriber passwords were stolen and their account pages were altered. The bigger the organization the greater the chance of them being attacked. As far as individuals go, the elderly are targeted more often than young. These scams are widespread and vary in style, breath and persistenc

You ARE Vulnerable; Read the List

The FBI’s counterintelligence agency provides a long list of tactics used to compromise a person’s sensitive and financial information. The FBI’s has been posting new warnings about the increased number and sophistication of these attacks for quite some time now. A previous article we wrote discusess these cyber attacks in depth. Tactics can include baiting, click-jacking, Cross-Site Scripting, Doxing, Elicitation, Pharming, Phising, Phreaking and many other scams. A great article to read regarding the detail of these methods is “Internet Social Networking Risk” provided by the FBI. It is quite extensive and worth reading.

The Solution

The problem is so extensive that to combat it will require a whole new mindset for all internet users. Businesses will have to implement employee education programs to teach employee how to be safe and vigilant internet users. Counter hacker software will have to be improved and
Cyber Defence Summit 2012
Cyber Defence Summit 2012 (Photo credit: Eugene Kaspersky)
be adopted more readily. Currently most smart phones and tablets are not protected with any kind of anti malware software. People will have to learn to be smarter internet users by creating better passwords and by engaging in smarter surfing and email behavior. This can come about through education promoted by the larger internet players (Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple, etc.) and by the widespread adoption of two-factor authentication practices. This new, so called 2FA practice is where a users name and passwords are followed by an additional external authentication token passed through a phone call, email or postcard. This additional token (like a pin number, symbol or picture), provides an additional layer of defense. Some even use a special picture or avatars on their websites to provide proof of the website's authenticity. You see this type of authentication being deployed by banks, financial institution and companies like Google, Facebook and others.

Cyber Security at the Ministry of Defence
Cyber Security at the Ministry of Defence (Photo credit: Defence Images)
We need to secure all internet connected devices. All computers, smart phones, tablets and game consoles must be protected. Even the new smart TVs and internet ready video streaming devices are vulnerable. Any device that employs computer technology and is connected to the internet can be hacked. Securing all devices will move our world towards a safer computing environment. We need to have multiple layers of protection in place. One antivirus program is not enough anymore. We have to monitor our internet traffic and we need to create and implement internet usage policies, both for our businesses and our personal usages.

In this article, I discussed the overall vulnerability problem we now face because of the growth and widespread adoption of social networks. We have discussed the massive cost of this problem, who is being attacked and why we are vulnerable. We have discussed the types of attacks being perpetrated and the possible solutions needed to solve this massive problem. If you have enjoyed and learned something  from this article, pass it on to your friends. If you have any additional ideas about this subject share them with our readers. Cyber attacks have been increasing exponentially over the last couple of years. Until all Internet users implement protective measures, engage in smart and defensive surfing and start to use social media in a more prudent manner, this problem will only grow. I hope you take the FBI’s warning seriously and implement some of the solutions I have talked about here.

That’s my opinion; I look forward to hearing yours.

If you like this article, you can find more by typing in ”Internet security" in the search box at the top left of this blog. If you found this article useful, share it with your friends, families and co-works. If you have a comment related to this article, leave it in the Comment sections below.  If you would like a free copy of our book, "Internet Marketing Tips for the 21st Century," fill out the form below.

Hector Cisneros is COO and director of Social Media Marketing at Working the Web to Win, an award-winning Internet marketing company based in Jacksonville, Florida.  He is also co-host of the weekly Internet radio show, "Working the Web To Win" on, which airs every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern. Hector is a syndicated writer and published author of “60 Seconds to Success.”

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