Feeds

Social sites' insecurity increasingly worrisome

'Fertile ground for malicious coders'

The Power of One eBook: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

Personal web spaces on MySpace, videos on YouTube, and blogs - community sites hosting user-created content - have become increasingly popular.

While the web has always been about publishing digital information, the stunning popularity of hubs for content created by the audience has attracted more people to the world of quick-and-easy publishing, but the trend has some security experts worried.

In November, security firm Websense alerted internet users over a handful of MySpace pages hosting videos that, when played, attempted to install adware on a viewer's system. The videos used the digital rights management facilities built into Windows Media player to start installing the software, earning the fraudster money as an affiliate of adware purveyor Zango.

The incident underscores that such content should not be trusted, said Dan Hubbard, senior director for security and technology research at Websense. As more internet companies develop tools for turning their audience into the prime source of content, online fraudsters and data thieves are looking to exploit the systems to reach mainstream audiences, he said.

"User created content is definitely a big security shift," Hubbard said. "I don't even think the companies have really thought about how to control things that they don't have (direct) control over."

The number of incidents involving user-created content hubs is increasing. Microsoft researchers have found that a loose collection of websites, or an "exploit net", play host to malicious content and use comment spam to attract potential victims. And social networking sites are at the centre of the storm. For example, a large number of the intermediary sites, as many as 17,000, are hosted on Google's Blogger service.

The internet search giant has its eye set on services that turn visitors into content creators. With Google's $1.6bn purchase of YouTube, the popularity of user-created content hubs will only rise. Giving the audience the tools to turn their creative energies into attractive content is a key piece of that popularity puzzle, but the sites need to weigh such decisions against the security implications, said Christopher Boyd, director of malware research at messaging security firm FaceTime Communications.

"It's a huge problem," Boyd said in an email interview with SecurityFocus. "These sites rely on an anything goes approach to attract users, with pretty much everything you could think of switched on for the user to customise."

And that makes the sites a potentially fertile ground for malicious coders and online fraudsters, he said.

MySpace has been a favourite target. A year ago, a worm constructed using Javascript crawled through the accounts of MySpace, adding one user - "Samy" - to everyone's friends list. The social-networking site has also become popular with online fraudsters that attempt to phish for log-in credentials from unsuspecting users, said Boyd, who has written about various adware threats on his VitalSecurity blog.

MySpace failed to comment on the issues after being contacted numerous times.

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications

More from The Register

next story
Secure microkernel that uses maths to be 'bug free' goes open source
Hacker-repelling, drone-protecting code will soon be yours to tweak as you see fit
How long is too long to wait for a security fix?
Synology finally patches OpenSSL bugs in Trevor's NAS
Roll out the welcome mat to hackers and crackers
Security chap pens guide to bug bounty programs that won't fail like Yahoo!'s
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
Researcher sat on critical IE bugs for THREE YEARS
VUPEN waited for Pwn2Own cash while IE's sandbox leaked
Four fake Google haxbots hit YOUR WEBSITE every day
Goog the perfect ruse to slip into SEO orfice
Putin: Crack Tor for me and I'll make you a MILLIONAIRE
Russian Interior Ministry offers big pile o' roubles for busting pro-privacy browser
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.