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Yet Another Facebook Malware Evolution

Every once in a while I like to discuss the strategic view and how different players affect each other in the realm of cybercrime. This post is about the latest evolutionary development in the fight -- with Facebook malware.
Every once in a while I like to discuss the strategic view and how different players affect each other in the realm of cybercrime. This post is about the latest evolutionary development in the fight -- with Facebook malware.We have seen before how Facebook malware (and scams) try to lure the unsuspecting user to clicking on links, while at the same time obfuscating their activities as to not be detected by Facebook's security team.

The next phase in that evolution has happened. And much like other phases, we've seen it before in another time and place.

In 2004, botnets existed and were actively used for cybercrime activities. The security industry as a whole, save for a few individuals (including yours truly), were not aware of this threat or disregarded it as secondary.

What mattered was PR. The Year Of The Big Worms was behind us and with every new worm to be released into the wild, wilder claims would be sounded in the press, claiming the end of the world. In retrospect, while unplanned, this was as good as a campaign by the criminals to keep us in the industry busy with old technology while they make use of botnets.

Botnet was not an acknowledged term -- most of us called them Drone Armies back then. But the key issue is that these botnets performed the criminal activity a worm would, while making the shelf life of compromised computers much larger, as well as individual bots multipurpose rather than single-purpose.

And, indeed, history repeats itself, only with a different spin.

On Facebook, malware and scam activities always fight against time. They invent new tricks, and the Facebook security team responds in kind. Some of these tricks have grown to sophisticated complexity, while others are simply useless. While botnets were always used to operate fake Facebook profiles, they were not used separately for infection and scam.

In the past few weeks, we have seen more and more spam and scams on Facebook that don't actually infect the user -- thus drawing less of our attention. We keep looking for the worm, but it's not there.

What the criminals have done is divide their activities. On the one hand you have the botnet and infected users, all unrelated to Facebook. These then use Facebook on real users' computers to scam their friends. Their friends, in turn, may lose money in the scam, but will not get infected if they click the link/lure.

The difference is subtle, but key. By not infecting users on Facebook for their Facebook scams, the criminals have a lower profile and are much less interesting to Facebook security and the security industry.

In essence, the criminals, knowingly or not, have taken a page out of a security manual. They have reduced their risks by adding an extra layer, or hop, between them and their marks. Not only do they now draw less attention, it is also more difficult to discover, follow, and/or destroy these botnets because they are obfuscated behind the scenes. Don't get me wrong: Criminals have always used botnets on Facebook. This is a matter of type of usage and scale.

Ask any old timer in the industry, and he will tell you: "We've seen this before" -- in a different time, or place, or platform. This cyclical nature of our field is fascinating to me. It is always a new threat, a new platform, and a new technology. The challenge is to maintain our experience in between, and not just be tactically oriented.

Follow Gadi Evron on Twitter: http://twitter.com/gadievron.

Gadi Evron is an independent security strategist based in Israel. Special to Dark Reading.

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