Declining confidence in social networking security

Consumer awareness of phishing attacks has doubled between 2007 and 2009 and the number of consumers who reported falling prey to this attack increased six times during that same period of time.

In addition, while hundreds of thousands of people join social networking websites each day, a new RSA survey exposed that nearly two in three (65 percent) people who belong to these online communities indicated they are less likely to interact or share information due to their growing security concerns.

The 2010 Global Online Consumer Security Survey polled more than 4,500 consumers regarding their awareness of online threats, concerns with the safety of their personal information online and their willingness to share it, and desire for better identity protection.

Social networking websites have become a hotbed for online criminals because of their global reach and the participation by hundreds of millions of active users from all walks of life. This makes these communities prime targets for exploitation by criminals who seek to steal personal information through socially engineered attacks.

Reflective of this trend, the survey exposed that four out of five (81 percent) people using social networking websites displayed concern with the safety of their personal information online.

“Fraudsters continue to fine-tune their array of tactics that result in millions of computers becoming infected with Trojans and other malware,” said Christopher Young, Senior VP at RSA. “These online criminals are adept at social engineering with at-the-ready phishing attacks that are launched within moments of breaking news about popular celebrities, professional athletes or serious global events. In these cases, people are lured to legitimate websites infected with malware as well as complete fakes designed to look like well-known news sources. Within these websites, Trojans can easily be masked as ‘required’ updates to a media player which can result in countless computers becoming infected with malware. While it’s difficult to prevent consumers from visiting these websites, we can do a better job of protecting those who do.”

Despite increased awareness, there have been a growing number of online users that have fallen victim to a phishing attack. In the 2007 RSA survey, only one in twenty (5 percent) consumers cited they had fallen victim to a phishing scam – and this rate increased six-times in 2009 to represent three in ten (29 percent) consumers.

This increase can be attributed to more advanced communications tactics and greater sophistication such as improved writing and web design skills on the part of the fraudsters. Phishing attacks have also evolved in an attempt to exploit users in different ways and through a broader variety of methods including offshoots known as “vishing”, “smishing” and “spear phishing.”

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