Riskiest social media applications

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The fastest growing threat to corporate networks is web-based social media applications, according to WatchGuard security researchers. These applications can seriously compromise network security, expose sensitive data, and create productivity drains on employees.

There are many reasons why social media applications can pose risk to any size business. Here are a few:

Productivity loss: Various research organizations have reported that the United States loses billions of dollars a year due to lowered productivity, as a result of time sinks such as social media sites. Although social media sites can be used for collaboration and rich communications, IT administrators often lack the ability to manage and control business productivity web applications vis-a-vis gaming web applications.

Data loss: With most US states enacting mandatory data breach disclosure laws, businesses are increasingly concerned about data leakage, whether accidental or malicious. Unfortunately, the attributes that make social media sites a fantastic communication medium also make them a potential risk for information and privacy leakage. By having application control capabilities, administrators reduce risks associated with accidental as well as malicious data loss.

Malware and Attack vector: Social networks will become the leading malware vector over the next few years for three reasons:

1. Social media sites breed a culture of trust. The whole point of social media is to interact with others. Typically interactions are with people considered to be “friends”, which implies trust. Meanwhile, social media sites do not have any technical means to validate that the people you are interacting with really are who they say they are. This environment of trust creates an ideal scenario for social engineers to utilize.

2. Many social media sites suffer from technical vulnerabilities. While Web 2.0 technologies provide many benefits, they also harbor many security vulnerabilities. The complexity of Web 2.0 applications can lead to imperfect code, which introduces some social network sites to Web application vulnerabilities, such as SQL injection and cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks. Furthermore, the whole concept of allowing untrusted users to push content onto social media sites conflicts with traditional security paradigms. Simply put, this means social media sites are more likely to suffer from web vulnerabilities than less complex and less interactive web sites.

3. Hugely popular. According to online analytics firm, Compete, Facebook is now the 2nd most popular Web destination after Google. Many other social networks, such as Twitter and YouTube, follow closely behind. Attackers are attracted to this popularity because they know it means that they can get “return on investment” for their attacks.

For these reasons, the following applications are deemed to be the most risky according to WatchGuard research:

1. Facebook: Facebook is surely the most dangerous social media site today, largely based upon its popularity. With a 500+ million user following, Facebook offers a fertile attack surface for hackers. Add in the potential technical concerns, such as a questionable, open App API and now you have a recipe for disaster.

2. Twitter: One would assume that very little damage could be done in 140 characters, but this is an incorrect assumption. In some cases, Twitter’s short form posts lead to new vulnerabilities such as URL shorteners. While URL shorteners can help save space in Twitter posts, they can also help hackers hide malicious links. Furthermore, Twitter suffers from many Web 2.0 and API related vulnerabilities that allow various attacks and even Twitter worms to propagate among its users.

3. YouTube: Because it is one of the most popular online video sites, attackers are drawn to targeting YouTube. Hackers often create malicious web pages that masquerade as YouTube video pages. Additionally, attackers like to spam the comment section of YouTube videos with malicious links.

4. LinkedIn: LinkedIn bears more burden than other social media sites; it is business oriented. Thus, it makes a more attractive target to attackers, as LinkedIn is highly trusted. Because most users leverage LinkedIn to form business relationships or find jobs, they tend to post more valuable and potentially sensitive information to this social network.

5. 4chan: 4chan is a popular image board, a social media site where users post images and comments. 4chan has been involved in many Internet attacks attributed to “anonymous,” which is the only username that all 4chan users can obtain. Some of 4chans image boards contain the worst depravities found on the Internet. Many hackers spam their malware to the 4chan forums.

6. Chatroulette: Chatroulette is an up-and-coming site that allows webcam owners to connect and chat with random people. The nature of this anonymous webcam system makes it a likely target for Internet predators.