2/2/2012
08:00 PM
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How To Spot A Fake Facebook Profile

Barracuda Networks gathers telltale characteristics of the phony Facebook 'Friend'



CANCUN, MEXICO -- Kaspersky Lab Security Analyst Summit 2012 -- Want to know who your real Facebook Friends are and are not?

Turns out there are some common characteristics of the fake Friend, according to new data revealed today by Barracuda Networks. For one thing, it's likely a female: Some 97 percent of fakes pose as women, while about 40 percent of real Facebook accounts are women, said Paul Judge, chief research officer at Barracuda, here today at the Kaspersky Lab Security Analyst Summit.

"Fake users can take over your account, spam your wall and feeds," Judge said. Many of these profiles are automatically generated, aimed at making money off of affiliate campaigns or spam-related scams: They spread phony ad campaigns for free gift cards from Starbucks or other trusted brands, he said.

A typical Facebook fake profile starts out by joining a group, such as a college network, in a large metropolitan area (think: population) and then shoots out friend requests to its members. They are all about luring new friends, and Barracuda has gathered some of the common traits of these fakes, such as their profile information and activities.

They hedge their bets: For example, 58 percent of fake Facebook accounts say they are interesting in both men and women, while only about 6 percent of legitimate accounts say the same. In addition, phony profiles tend to stand out due to the sheer volume of their "Friends." On average, they boast 726 Facebook friends, while real users have about 130 Friends on the social network. Nearly 70 percent of the posers claim to have attended college, while about 40 percent of legitimate users' profiles include college educations.

There's plenty of evidence of automated generation of these fake profiles, too. Barracuda found that while most "real" Facebook users have an average distance of 618 miles between their high schools and colleges, the fakes purported to have attended colleges much closer to their high schools -- an average of 338 miles away. "They went for the closest college," Judge said.

Fake Friends also tend to be tag-happy. While the average legit Facebook user tags one friend per every four photos he or she uploads, the fakes on average tag 30 people per photo they upload. It's all about casting a wide net, according to the researchers.

Even so, they don't update much overall -- 43 percent have never updated their Facebook statuses, while only 15 percent of legit Facebook users have never updated theirs. The phony profiles don't share interests on Facebook as much as legit users do, either -- only 35 percent versus 77 percent of real users.

Judge said Barracuda has built a tool to crawl Facebook for fake profiles, and is working on a plug-in so user scan preview Friend requests. The company offers the ProfileProtector tool for Facebook and Twitter users. "We're [also] working on the relationship between a user and their friends, using streaming algorithms to determine the trending topics between their accounts," for example, Judge says.

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Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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