High social media use makes Asia prime spam target

High social media use makes Asia prime spam target

Summary: Large number of social media users in region coupled with poor spam filter technology used on these sites make Asia easy target for spammers.

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The high penetration rate of social networks among Asian consumers and the general lack of advanced spam filters for these Web sites will only exacerbate the problem of spam in the region, industry watchers say.

Pranabesh Nath, industry manager for ICT practice in Asia-Pacific at Frost & Sullivan, likened the current situation with spam on social networks to the earlier experience with e-mails, when spamming got worse as more people owned e-mail accounts. Similarly, as the user base for social networks continues to grow, spam will grow in tandem too, he noted.

This is especially so in Asia, which contributes millions of users in social networking sites, noted Eugene Teo, Singapore manager for security response at Symantec. He said such a large user base makes the region the perfect fertile ground for spam via social engineering tactics.

"It's easier to fool someone when they think they're surrounded by friends", Teo said, adding that cybercriminals will increasingly target users in region to distribute spam by exploiting the power and trust of social network connections.

Dan Olds, analyst at The Gabriel Consulting Group, added that while e-mail spam continues to be highly prevalent in Asia, this has become less attractive for spammers due to better spam filtering technology used by consumers and Internet service providers.

As such, spammers are turning their attention to the region's social media space, Olds said. After all, while popular social networks such as Facebook and Twitter have all been trying to fight spam, there remains a general lack of control over user sign ups which allows fake accounts to be easily created and used to circulate spam.

Spammers will go where their targets congregate and look for the lowest hanging fruit, and not only do social networks have a vast number of users, spam filtering technology used by these sites is nowhere as advanced as that of e-mail, he explained.

"So it makes sense that these social sites are their next target, and spammers also like to hit a [growing] site early on before it has the chance to build solid anti-spam measures," the analyst added.

One Singaporean Facebook user, Suzanne Tee, agreed with the analysts' observations. She said spam may be a "worldwide nuisance", but Asia will be the center and target of spam with social network penetration still growing compared to other regions where adoption has hit a plateau.

Their comments come after photo-sharing social network Pinterest had to lock some user accounts due to a spam outbreak in July.

Collaboration sites at risk too
Besides social networking sites, other online collaborations sites are also at risk of spam attacks due to their growing popularity among users.

Nath said one example is cloud storage services such as Dropbox, and he urged providers to quickly beef up their security or they may end up with diminished service performance and credibility.

Dropbox recently confirmed that a stolen employee password resulted in documents containing e-mail addresses of some European users to be stolen, after which spam was sent to these accounts.

While such attacks have yet to afflict users in Asia, it raises questions regarding the security measures used by these Web-based service providers, the Frost & Sullivan analyst noted.

Joan Goh, a Pinterest and Dropbox user in Singapore, confirmed she had not encountered spam on either account but was not surprised these relatively new services with their rapidly growing user bases were attacked. They are easy prey compared to more mature social networks which would have learnt from past experiences, she said.

Goh added while she hopes site owners will invest more to safeguard users against spam, she also believes in using "common sense" to safeguard her data. "I'll ignore dubious links or e-mails even if they're supposedly from connections I know on my accounts," she noted.

Topics: Security, Social Enterprise

Jamie Yap

About Jamie Yap

Jamie writes about technology, business and the most obvious intersection of the two that is software. Other variegated topics include--in one form or other--cloud, Web 2.0, apps, data, analytics, mobile, services, and the three Es: enterprises, executives and entrepreneurs. In a previous life, she was a writer covering a different but equally serious business called show business.

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  • Stopping Social Spam: Realities and Solutions

    Jamie, you’re right: social spam is on the rise and companies are struggling to stop it. Presently, 90% of social network users have experienced some form of social spam or abuse (i.e. password hacking, fake follower/friending schemes, account takeovers, etc.). Meanwhile, according to a survey of more than 200 companies conducted by my company (Impermium), 84% of companies have no plan to fight social spam in their web sites. Of the companies trying to do something proactively, only 3% are using automated tools that have the ability to keep up with, identify and block fraudulent accounts and malicious attacks. This means the great majority of sites are fighting social spam manually with staff — and they are no doubt falling further behind as spam volumes increase exponentially.

    While the cost of social spam is not as well understood as its cousin (email spam), there is little doubt that the cost is growing. For example, late last year, social spammers targeted AOL's Tech Crunch Talk Crunch and began posting malicious and pornographic links across the site. The activity became so bad that an ad network threatened to end service if something wasn’t done. With our help, AOL wiped out a year’s worth of spam content in a day, regained compliance with the ad service’s standards, decreased the estimated amount of internal budget dollars spent fighting social spam by 80%, and leveraged real-time analysis – using machine learning and behavioral modeling – to detect abusive behavior with little interference to legitimate users.
    Mark Risher