Safer surfing mobile social networks

ENISA (the European Network and Information Security Agency) today presents a new report on accessing social networks over mobile phones which points out the risks and threats of mobile social networking services and reputation risks of mobile social networks.

211 million users (out of 283 million) in Europe use social networking sites, and, primarily, Facebook in 11/17 countries studied. The ways people meet, share opinions, communicate information and ideas is changing. With growing popularity of social networking sites, the demand for instant, continuous access over the mobile phone has increased-i.e. mobile social networks (MSN). More than 65 million users now access Facebook over their mobile device. MSN users are 50% more active than non-mobile users, and are estimated to be 134 million in Europe by 2012.

Many MSN users also use their phone as a backup device for business mails, personal data, contacts, pictures, and access codes. As a consequence, a lost mobile phone can cause serious damage, e.g. when illegitimately used to access MSNs. Many mobile phones come pre-packaged at purchase, with built in MSN applications i.e. “on-deck’ services.

Several stories from Italy, France, Spain, Greece, UK, witness that many SNS/MSN users are largely unaware of security risks, privacy issues and threats related to misuse of the information put online in an SNS and of proper online privacy protection.

The ENISA report gives an overview of the situation and underlines that in particular MSN users need awareness on how to safer use social networks on a mobile phone to avoid unexpected and damaging consequences. Risks include identity theft, and serious damage to personal or corporate reputation, or data leakage. Two samples case studies:

  • Fake profile on Facebook. A professor at Turin University discovered someone else had created a profile for him at Facebook with offensive features, affecting his reputation.
  • Data leakage/corporate reputation. After a 2008 incident, Virgin Atlantic airlines later dismissed 13 staff members who had posted comments on Facebook which e.g. criticised the cleanliness of the company’s fleet and of its passengers. Similarly, British Airlines check-in staff at Gatwick posted messages on Facebook saying e.g. travellers were “smelly’ and criticised the chaotic operations at Heathrow.

The complete ENISA report is available here.