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7/8/2010
06:41 PM
George V. Hulme
George V. Hulme
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Social Networking: Keeping It Real

Another demonstration on the security and privacy implications of using social networking sites reveals their real weakness. And I say: so what.

Another demonstration on the security and privacy implications of using social networking sites reveals their real weakness. And I say: so what.We've all read the stories about the perils of revealing too much information on sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. We've had experiments presented at Black Hat and Defcon in year's past highlighting how easy it is for fake LinkedIn profiles to befriend a targeted group of people, and numerous conference sessions, such as at this year's RSA Conference about how companies should approach the use of social networking sites at work.

We even had a Web site launch, PleaseRobMe.com, purportedly designed to raise awareness about over-sharing one's where a bouts on social networking sites.

And, earlier this year, the Department of Defense lightened up its harsh stance against social networking sites. There has been a long and queasy relationship with social media and the military - not surprisingly - over security concerns. Still, I was not surprised to read in Tuesday's DarkReading about how a bogus (Robin Sage) LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter profile duped a number of (who should have known better) security-aware people:

Robin Sage gained a total of about 300 friends on LinkedIn, counting those who came and went, he says. All three of the phony woman's social networking accounts remain active -- the LinkedIn profile currently has 148 connections, the Facebook profile has 110, and the Twitter account has 141 followers. Ryan officially ran the experiment for 28 days starting in late December and ending in January of this year.

Among Robin's social networking accomplishments: She scored connections with people in the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the CIO of the NSA, an intelligence director for the U.S. Marines, a chief of staff for the U.S. House of Representatives, and several Pentagon and DoD employees. The profiles also attracted defense contractors, such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Booz Allen Hamilton. Lockheed and other firms made job offers to Robin, some inviting her to dinner to discuss employment prospects. "I was surprised at how people in her same command friended her -- people actually in the same command and the same building," Ryan says.

It doesn't surprise me that a number of security and intelligence professionals fell for the ruse. They've the same weaknesses as any other group of people. And they're going to make mistakes.

But we've reached the point to where these ruses are a bore. It's easy to fool people in most any circle, and to use any gained trust to potentially gather sensitive information. It's too easy, in fact. And those connections can be used to footprint targets and be used for information gathering. We get it.

What's hard is solving the challenge. Coming up with a real, sustainable solution to the social media and security problem.

I don't pretend to have one. Nothing better than improving awareness, anyway. Organizations need to remind people that the internet is public, and that the only safe decision is to post information that is safe for the world to see. And that users of LinkedIn, Facebook and others should be wary of whom they connect with. I'll often go so far as to send an e-mail or call to make sure a person is who they actually claim to be.

But that's not a solution, and it's not good enough. People will always succumb to social engineering attacks on social networks.

Perhaps the time has come for social media sites to provide a reputation score for their profiles. Profiles could increase their reputation over time, by having others vouch for the profile and the user, and perhaps even having the identities verified. Users could still have anonymous profiles, but they'd suffer a lower reputation as a trade-off.

I haven't thought the idea through much more than knowing the current way of doing things just isn't working. I'm open for improvements, and entirely new ideas. That'd be much more helpful than repeatedly proving what we already know.

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