Social networks like Facebook are fertile territory for cyber attacks. The nature of a social network is that it connects you with other people you ostensibly know and trust—so you're more likely to open a message or click a link without thinking twice, which is a bad idea.
The Butterfly botnet that plagued Facebook earlier this year infected an estimated 11 million PCs and raked in roughly $850 million in ill-gotten gains. Facebook was instrumental in working with the FBI to shut down the threat, and to trace its origins to identify and arrest the perpetrators. Tal Be’ery, Web research team leader at Imperva, shares insight on the Yahos malware used to propagate the Butterfly botnet.
"The Yahos malware is reported to propagate via social engineering, and naturally it thrives in the hotbed of social networks. An infected user will send a message to all of his friends "How does this photo look?” with an attached Malware file or malware link. Users naturally trust messages they receive from friends and will follow the link and will get infected themselves and the malware will try to spread to all of their friends, ad infinitum."
Yahos is not unique to Facebook, but with a billion registered users Facebook is a prime target for any social network-based attack. The social connections in Facebook, and the ways people share information and cutesy photos with each other make it easy prey for a social engineering attack. This wasn't the first attack aimed at social networks, and it won't be the last.
Here are three simple things you can do to avoid these attacks and protect your PC and your personal data:
1. Keep your friends close
Take a look at your "friends" on Facebook and on other social networks. How many of those people are people you know personally and trust? Use discrimination in choosing your social network contacts to minimize your exposure to these threats.
2. Exercise caution
Society at large has been brainwashed with the mantra to not open unsolicited or suspicious email file attachments, and to not click on links within email messages. That same common sense logic has to be extended to social networking. Do not open attachments or follow links on messages—even from friends you know—on social networks unless you know what it is. A message to you out of the blue and lacking context should immediately raise some red flags.
3. Protect your PC
Many attacks exploit known vulnerabilities, or even use known malware variants as a means of propagation. Keep your operating system and applications patched and up to date, and use security software to detect and block malware. A security tool with data access monitoring can provide additional protection by ensuring that sensitive information isn't leaving your PC without your knowledge.
Truth be told, the tips for avoiding attacks are pretty much the same as you should follow for email. Use some common sense, and exercise some health skepticism about every message and link, and you can defend yourself against the vast majority of attacks.