Researchers build malicious Facebook application

A team of researchers have built a malicious Facebook program that demonstrates the possible dangers of social networking applications.

A team of researchers have built a malicious Facebook program an experiment to demonstrate the possible dangers of social networking applications.

The experiment shows the ease with which attackers could dupe large number of users into downloading a seemingly harmless application that actually performs a clandestine attack that can cripple a Web site.

Facebook and other Web sites such as MySpace, Bebo and Google are creating technology platforms that let third-party developers build applications to run on those sites. The concept has opened the door to innovation, but also prompted worries over how those applications could be used for spam or steal personal data.

The researchers developed an application called "Photo of the Day," which serves up a new National Geographic photo daily. But in the background, every time the application is clicked, it sends a 600 K-byte HTTP request for images to a victim's Web site.

Those requests, as well as those images, are not seen by someone using Photo of the Day, which the researchers have termed a "Facebot" application. The effect is a flood of traffic to the victim's Web site, known as a denial-of-service attack.

The researchers uploaded their application to Facebook in January and told a few colleagues about it. Even without advertising or other promotion, close to 1,000 people installed it in their profiles, much to the researchers' surprise.

They then monitored traffic on a Web site they set up for Photo of the Day to attack. If those traffic figures were applied to Facebook applications that have a million or more users, they estimated a victim's Web site could be bombarded by as much as 23 M bits per second of traffic, or 248 G bytes of unwanted data per day.

"Facebook applications have a highly-distributed platform with significant attack firepower under their control," wrote the researchers.

The malicious Facebot could also be rigged for other nefarious duties. An attacker could create an application that uses JavaScript and HTTP requests to figure out if a particular host has certain ports open, they wrote. Another possibility is to construct an application that delivers a malicious link in order to infect a Web site with malware.

Since Facebook applications can get access to users' personal details, it would also be possible for the application to grab all of those details and post them to a remote server, they wrote.

However, social networking sites can take measures to prevent bad applications, the researchers said. One remedy is ensuring that applications can't interact with hosts that aren't part of the social network. New applications should also be vigorously verified by the social networking site. APIs (application programming interfaces) should be crafted so as not to allow too much interaction with the rest of the Internet.

Photo of the Day is still listed on Facebook, with its authorship attributed to Andreas Makridakis, one of the researchers. The application has 543 users now, with several comments praising it.

The study was published by the Foundation for Research and Technology in Heraklion, Greece, and the Institute for Infocomm Research in Singapore.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Facebook

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?