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Should You Worry About Malware on Social Networks?

By Dunlap

Social networking sites are exploding in popularity, but they are also becoming increasingly risky. Accounts are being hacked, and emails from your friends with links often can no longer be trusted without taking some caution first.

The spam links posted on social networks can send you to content that can be full of malware. These links are placed by malicious people who figure out creative ways to obtain usernames and passwords. One way they get this information is through Facebook apps -- some may not be apps at all, but keyloggers that track your every keystroke.

A Persistent Problem
A recent report found that 40 percent of social network users have encountered malicious attacks -- a 90-percent increase from last year. Another study, which conducted experiments across 11 social networks, found that all of them failed to block links to malware, which would infect users’ PCs. Nine networks even allowed links to sites on Google’s list of known poisoned websites. Twitter is particularly vulnerable because of its widespread usage of URL shorteners, like TinyURL and, which may often seem like a great idea. However, they can sometimes be used to disguise links to problematic sites.

So why is malware proliferating on social networks? They might be a riper target than email, the old target, because people seem to be more likely to trust things from their “friends” than from other people, even though some people seem to allow just about anybody to be their “friend” online.

Also, with the propagation of URL shorteners, links that send you to bad things are easier to hide. Instead of seeing “SomethingBad.exe” at the end of the URL, users just see some random characters.

How to Stay Safe on Social Networks
Use these security tips to combat the growing social media malware plague:

1. Avoid posting links in social network messages.

2. Make sure your Internet security settings are set to identify hostile sites before you accept an app.

3. Make sure your antivirus software is up-to-date and your browser is set to flag bogus websites.

4. Don’t use Facebook apps that you are introduced to through email or a Facebook message.

5. Do your research. For example, if a friend posts that they are stuck in Europe without money, call that friend up and have a chat. Don’t contact them on the social network since the post -- and their responses -- may not be real, particularly if the malicious person behind it wants to install something on your computer or wants your username and password.

6. When using Twitter, take caution when clicking on shortened URLs. Use a URL expansion service, which shows you the full URL so you know where the link goes. One of the best is the LinkPeelr Chrome extension, which enables simple mouse-over URL expansion.

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