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'Computers are making people easier to use everyday'

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RSA Europe Social networks make obtaining sensitive background information on people as a prelude to stealing their identities – and running attacks on corporations – easier than ever before.

Ira Winkler, president of ISAG (Internet Security Advisors Group), an ex-NSA officer and cybercrime guru, has called for increased security awareness training. "People don't realise what they are putting out there," he said. "Computers are making people easier to use everyday."

Speaking at the RSA Europe conference in London on Wednesday, Winkler outlined a range of attacks that social networking might enable. Information on LinkedIn, for example, has been used as a prelude to targeted attacks against corporates or government agencies as part of the expanding list of so-called Advanced Persistent Threat-style (APT) attacks commonly blamed on China. Lower-level criminals can use information on social networks such as Facebook to guess the answers to password reset questions, for example. Worse still, 4Square users are giving away their location every time they log in to a venue, revealing to potential burglars that they are away from home in the process.

Much of this type of activity is wrongly described as social engineering, according to Winkler. The security guru said the term social engineering has been bastardised. Its original meaning referred to an interaction with people where they would be directly manipulated into performing actions or giving away confidential information. The bastardised term is now misapplied to "check this out" lures in mass-mailed computer viruses or even to the lifting of sensitive information consumers have unwittingly left on social networking sites, he says.

He also pointed out that few stop to think that current or potential employers might scan their Facebook profiles, which reveal details of drunken parties or time taken off work when they are supposedly sick.

Content-filtering tools for social networks don't exist as yet. In the absence of such tools, Winkler favours security awareness training for users, which he argues is sorely needed.

"You can have no expectation of privacy for anything you put on the internet," Winkler. "The test has to be: do you want your worst possible enemy to see the information you are putting online?" ®

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