Tips for using Twitter, Facebook and other "anti-social networks"

LAS VEGAS -- Corporations should institute daily one-minute Internet safety lessons that users must complete before they are allowed online, a security expert told Interop attendees this week, but he said even that might not work because attackers pay more attention to the advice than those it is intended to protect.

As security pros publicize best practices, cybercriminals are taking note and using the information as a way to plot new exploits that circumvent the latest countermeasures, said David Perry, global director of education for Trend Micro. "Every time we come out with advice, the bad guys take it and come out with something else," he said.

A daily reminder to users about safe practices would keep the problem in mind and also emphasize that corporate IT takes the issues seriously and so should they, Perry said. "Training should be established and maintained on a small-message, daily basis," he said.

One of the biggest Internet threats to corporate security and personal privacy is social networking, he said, as reflected in the name of his Interop talk, "Anti-Social Networking".

Given the seemingly irreversible popularity of sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, everybody better get used to a never-ending battle against malicious activity. "Social networking is here to stay; we cannot avoid it," Perry said, so education and vigilance are needed. The only sure way to avoid malware and revealing too much personal information through social networks -- stop using social networks -- is not a possibility for the masses.

But Perry did offer a list of tips for safety when using the sites such as employing strong passwords that are unique for each site, denying use of all applications offered on the sites, learning what sensitive data is and don't post it, don't identify family members, don't friend people you don't already know, don't chat and don't answer surveys.

He noted that seemingly innocuous information posted to these sites can be valuable to criminals. For example, if a person mentions their grandfather's full name and it doesn't match their own last name, it's likely that is the person's mother's maiden name -- a fact often used to identify people for authentication purposes, Perry said..

If you post a photo of your dog Fluffy, that gives hackers a potential password to try out, he said. Friends of friends on Facebook can see a user's list of friends, and using any application on Facebook enables hackers to see a user's page including their inbox, he said.

Data mining among these sites can produce extensive dossiers on individuals, far beyond what they might expect. "Google probably knows more about you than your therapist," Perry said.

What people lose on these sites is secrets, but because they don't lose actual possession of their secrets, they don't realize they have been taken, he said. "You've still got it, but so do they, and you don't know," he said.

Social networking is so pervasive that Perry has heard of U.S. troops in Afghanistan Tweeting to each other in code on unauthorized wireless networks (called Hajj networks) about imminent threats on the battlefield.

Well-organized criminal groups are behind most of the exploits distributed through social networks and are so sophisticated that within just a few years every machine hit by malware will be hit by a unique version never used before. Already malware is developed, used for 15 minutes or so, then retired, making traditional signature-based antimalware ineffective, Perry said

These criminal groups are large -- one had a 500-person call center -- and sophisticated; they offer service plans and upgrades. "People used to say the Internet was the Wild West," he said. "Now it's Depression-era Chicago with crime lords."A combination of education and defenses that rely on the reputation of Web sites and e-mail addresses will have to evolve.

"It's going to take a village to protect your computer," Perry said.

Read more about wide area network in Network World's Wide Area Network section.

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Tim Greene

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