Seven ways social nets like Facebook and LinkedIn are 'truly evil'

"Social networking sites are truly evil," at least from a corporate security perspective

NEW YORK -- Social networks are a major resource for hackers trying to capture valuable corporate data or run amok inside business networks, the information security director of a major online trading firm told Security Standard attendees.

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"Social networking sites are truly evil," at least from a corporate security perspective, says Alan Lustiger, director of information security for Gain Capital Holdings.

Here are seven reasons why:1. Searching social sites for company names yields partial company rosters, which is a start toward softening them up for social networking attacks.2. Work e-mail addresses gleaned from social sites can provide valuable information. If the e-mail naming scheme (first initial followed by last name or first name, underscore, last name) is the same as the password scheme that undermines security. "You're halfway to breaking their user name and password," he says.3. Information posted on social sites give clues for passwords to try – names of children, favorite food, sports teams, etc.4. Phony contests advertised on social sites that request all sorts of data that could be used to reset passwords – where you went to school, name of your first pet, and your favorite uncle.5. Shortened URLs commonly used on Twitter can lead to anywhere, and there are no clues in the shortened URLs themselves about where that might be.6. Mining bulletin boards can produce news of IT job openings at specific companies. . Attackers could line up an interview, during which they gather details about the corporate network in the course of discussing the potential job and their experience with specific gear.7. Google Latitude's use of GPS posts where you are right now, also revealing all the places you aren't. People seeking an excuse to be inside a corporate facility can use this to drop by and ask for an employee they know isn't there.

Lustiger says all social engineering exploiters need is to get their feet in the door, even to the reception area. So one could enter, ask for someone they know isn’t there, decide to wait, then ask the receptionist to print out a spreadsheet they’ll need for their meeting with the employee who's not there.

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Receptionists, trained to be helpful, might insert a USB stick into their computer to print the document while in the background malware on the stick is planting a backdoor, stealing data or releasing destructive code, he says – all without leaving a trace.

Other in-person social engineering tricks include getting any job at the company, giving them insider access to networks, and more time than they really need to do damage. "It takes minutes and it isn't hard to do," he says.

Educating employees about the risks is the best way to block social attack vectors, Lustiger says, and relating the measures to their personal lives helps. "Why does a Web site need to know your birthday?" he says, pointing out that it can be used as an identifying factor to change passwords or steal identities. He has a phony birthdate he uses to help protect against identity theft.

Physical security measures employees should practice include not letting people piggy back their way through doors after someone with a key card has unlocked it and asking people they don't recognize as employees for IDs.

As for the social networking sites, corporate security teams should make it their business to monitor a sampling of employees' personal social-networking sites for information they post that could be used to undermine the safety of corporate assets. "Employees are putting information out there on their own free time," he says.

Even diligent businesses remain vulnerable, though, he says. "It's virtually impossible to defend against a really dedicated social engineering attacker who's given enough time," he says.

Read more about wide area network in Network World's Wide Area Network section.

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Tim Greene

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