Ever had those random adds from attractive (or extremely photoshopped) ladies wearing next to nothing, who have an extremely bare profile and don't talk to you? Chances are that's a Socialbot, and as researchers from the University of British Columbia have concluded, they prove extremely effective at infiltrating Facebook's circles of friends and harvesting data.
The idea is once one of these Social "sock-puppet" bots are friended, your data that you've elected to share is instantly saved and added to a database of the thousands of others which which the bot has accrued over it's use. It's a scary technological advancement, and yet another threat to Facebook's privacy concerns.
Over eight weeks, the researchers from UBC employed a single botmaster (awesome title) and 102 bots to infiltrate Facebook and gather as much data as possible. FB was specifically chosen because it is thought to have better security measures compared to other social networks (when in real terms, they're as bad as each other). The experiment gathered over 3000 people (presumably), their data and contact details, proving just how "immune" Facebook's system really is. Adding insult to injury, only 20 of the bots were flagged; but not for being bots, instead they were reported for spam.
“As socialbots infiltrate a targeted OSN [online social network], they can further harvest private users’ data such as e-mail addresses, phone numbers, and other personal data that have monetary value. To an adversary, such data are valuable and can be used for online profiling and large-scale email spam and phishing campaigns. It is thus not surprising that different kinds of socialbots are being offered for sale in the Internet black-market for as much as $29 (£18) per bot.”
£18? Absolute bargain when you dive into it. Thanks to the laxed security on the front of the socialbots, the investment made procured the researchers an average of 175 pieces of data per day, summing up to a whopping 250GB of personal information by the end of the test.
Simple fixes: tune up your privacy setting, stop putting your phone number on the web, and don't accept friend requests from scantily clad ladies from overseas with no friends in common. Sorted.
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I am the Founder and Editor-in-chief of New Rising Media. You can follow me on Twitter @MrJasonEngland.