Facebook, social networks, increasing source of spam, cyber attacks

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When it comes to online social networks, companies may have more to worry about than just the distraction factor in the workplace. Those Web sites are also becoming a bigger source of cyber attacks and spam, according to a recent survey by Sophos, a computer security company.

Sophos said that reports by companies of spam and malware derived from social networks such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter were up 70 percent from a year earlier. And of the 500 companies surveyed, 60 percent said Facebook — by far the largest social network internationally–posed the biggest security risk.

“2009 saw Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites solidify their position at the heart of many users’ daily internet activities, and saw these websites become a primary target for hackers,” according to the report. “Because of this, social networks have become one of the most significant vectors for data loss and identity theft.”

The company said attackers are hitting social networks in part because of valuable personal data contained on those sites. Twitter and Facebook were hit by denial of service attacks traced to a hacker in the nation of Georgia that shut off hundreds of millions users for several hours

Sophos noted that Facebook’s new privacy policy in many cases exposed personal data to broader Internet audiences.

Facebook says it has recently partnered with McAfee to give users a free six-month subscription to McAfee’s security software. Users can use the software for applications beyond Facebook, according to Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes.

“We’ve built in numerous defenses to combat phishing and malware, including complex automated systems that work behind the scenes to detect and flag Facebook accounts that are likely to be compromised,” Noyes said.

As for those privacy policy changes addressed in the Sophos report, Noyes said the new policy also “gave our users unprecedented ability to decide who sees content they post on Facebook at the time they post it.”
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