‘Socialbots’ pose IT security threat on campuses


“It is, however, not well-understood how such defenses stand against socialbots that mimic real users, and what the expected users’ behavior might be in response to a large-scale infiltration by such bots,” the researchers wrote.

Facebook’s defense system checks about 25 billion online actions every day, or 650,000 per second, according to Facebook. FIS checks every click registered on Facebook for signs or patterns that malware or spam could be spreading across the social network.

Higher education technology officials have said popular sites like Twitter and Facebook – havens for computer hackers – could compromise the campus network when students use access the social sites in their dorms or in class.

Carefully placed spam and malware, IT officials said, could give hackers access to the campus network if students click on the fraudulent link.

MyPageKeeper, created by UC Riverside Ph.D. students Ting-Kai Huang and Sazzadur Rahman, once downloaded, scans a Facebook user’s news feed for potential spam and phishing attempts and sends warnings detailing security compromises.

This not only safeguards the user’s Facebook account, but also the accounts of his or her friends who might click on fraudulent links that launch covert attacks against personal computers when clicked.

Facebook accounts for 5.7 percent of all phishing attacks, more than Google or the IRS, but only a fraction of PayPal, which accounts for 52 percent of phishing scams.

“It’s an ever-changing battle for us,” said Jonathan Domen, a network analyst at Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I., a private campus with about 3,600 students. “It really comes down to getting a handle on it really quickly before people start clicking and things get much worse.”

Blocking Facebook, campus technology chiefs said, isn’t an option, because so many students use the site for social and educational purposes, connecting to classmates and professors alike.

“We have to walk a very fine line,” said Domen, adding that Bryant’s network blocks students from accessing Facebook applications that are especially vulnerable to malware.