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Facebook message security risks 'open door to Web 2.0 botnet'

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Security watchers have already begun fretting about the security implications of Facebook's new messaging system, warning that compromised accounts might be used to create potent Web 2.0 botnets.

The system brings together Facebook messages, instant messaging chat and SMS messages in one location, a development that increases the value of compromised accounts to spammers while simultaneously increasing the number of ways to attack accounts (or the attack surface).

"Facebook accounts will now be linked with many more people in the users' social circles - opening up new opportunities for identity fraudsters to launch attacks," warned net security firm Sophos.

Miscreants have been using compromised accounts to spread spam since Facebook first opened up to general usage. Spam sent via the social network often invokes survey scam and malware lures as well as the occasional penis pill advert.

Users are more likely to open and trust a message which appears to have been sent by someone they know - one of their Facebook friends - a factor that makes the platform more attractive to spammers and other assorted cybercrooks.

Much earlier attention has focused on the strong likelihood that @facebook.com users will receive spam messages from external parties. But the greater threat, according to Sophos, comes from the possibility that cybercrooks will use phishing to compromise Facebook messaging accounts.

"Careless password security and other factors could lead to the creation of Web 2.0 botnet," a Sophos spokesman said.

Until Facebook rolls out plans to apply always-on encryption, users accounts also remain exposed to cookie capture compromise in open Wi-Fi networks, a risk graphically illustrated with the recent release of Firesheep.

Facebook has made use of third-party anti-spam services and in-house technology in tackling the problem of spam that already exists on Facebook. However, Sophos reckons these ad-hoc campaigns have amounted to an exercise in "whack-a-mole" that has failed to address underlying problems.

Sophos is also concerned that Facebook's messaging system will permanently archive content, outside of the control of users.

The net security firm has put together a guide designed to help users understand the potential security implications of signing up to the service, which can be found here.

Many people are likely to use Facebook's messaging system bot at home and at work. According to stats from next-generation firewall vendor Palo Alto Networks, Facebook Mail has appearing consistently in the top five most frequently used webmail applications.

Use of the application is dwarfed by Gmail and Hotmail usage within corporates, but usage within corporates has grown from 0.2 per cent to three per cent over the last two years. ®

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