Speaking at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas, Nitesh Dhanjani, a consultant who helps secure large corporations, showed how social networks could be mined for clues to people's behavior.
He demonstrated how software programs could be created, sometimes using tools provided by the social networks themselves, to figure out the location of politicians who use Twitter or piece together social connections on LinkedIn or determine someone's state of mind by the frequency and type of words he or she uses.
He also reviewed how social networking sites can be misused by bad actors to try to influence public opinion, which happened last year during the coordinated bombing attacks on Mumbai. False posts were created on Twitter to try to disrupt rescue efforts, Dhanjani said.
Social networks have become regular targets of criticism at Black Hat, where researchers make headlines every year because they've managed to poke holes in some popular information technology.
Last year two researchers -- Shawn Moyer and Nathan Hamiel -- set up fake profiles on three different social networking sites and attracted more than 150 friends, including defense industry executives, the chief security officers of major corporations, and other people who should have known better, the pair said.
This year they talked about how information can be stolen from Web surfers through the use of dynamic cross-site scripting attacks.
But social networking sites can also be useful, Dhanjani said. For example, Twitter posts can be filtered by geography or keyword to provide an early warning system for firefighters and other emergency responders.
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