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MySpace profile hack provides early warning to predators

Unplugged 'system error'

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A security issue on MySpace may put a spanner in the works of law-enforcement efforts to track miscreants using the social networking site.

Many MySpace profiles contain code that subscribes visitors to a profile's video channel. Normally this is all well and good, but hackers are able to subvert the feature for filthy purposes, according to Chris Boyd, security research manager at FaceTime Communications.

Hackers have set up dozens of accounts used as a springboard for spamming or attempts to vandalise other profiles.

The feature (used in conjunction with an IP address tracker) might also be employed by predators to keep tabs on anyone who might be tracking their activities, Boyd says. Although MySpace has made attempts to prohibit the use of IP trackers, miscreants have found a way around these blocks.

Crackers "are using every trick in the book they can to know who is watching them," Boyd said.

In particular, the feature could be used by predators to detect if their attempts to groom youngsters have come to the attention of law enforcement, potentially curtailing or frustrating evidence in child abuse investigations.

The tactic has been in play since at least October 2007. MySpace was informed of the issue in late March but is yet to act. According to Boyd, the social networking site has responded to his concerns about the issue by describing it as a "system error".

Pending a fix from MySpace itself, Boyd has posted advice to surfers about how to avoid tracking here, a tip child abuse investigators might well find useful. ®

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