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The World Wide Web is rapidly evolving into a "social Web" that is dominated by user-generated content and user-centric social interactions. For example, the most popular social Web site, Facebook, currently has more than 175 million active users who are spending more than 3 billion minutes on the site every day. This unprecedented growth has prompted enterprises to accept and even encourage the use of the social Web in the workplace to promote business activities and facilitate work-related communications.

Although this evolution enhances the value and usability of the Web, it also presents a number of security challenges for consumers and enterprise users. These challenges can be broadly categorized into three distinct classes:

  • Traditional attacks
  • Socially enhanced attacks
  • Social Web-specific attacks

Traditional attacks

First, traditional attacks that have plagued Internet users for many years have been adapted to take advantage of the unique properties of the social Web. Due to the massive size of social Web sites, their tightly connected nature, and their relatively naive user bases, these sites are prime targets for malware propagation. One of the most famous incidents of malware propagation in the social Web was the "Samy worm." This worm was launched within the MySpace community, and it compromised more than one million profiles over the course of a single day by sending fake "friend requests." Fortunately, the victimized profiles were eventually restored, but the worm's propagation rate and overall infiltration into the site clearly illustrate the amount of damage that worms can inflict in the social Web.

Socially enhanced attacks

In addition to propagating malware, attackers are bombarding the social Web with spam and deceiving users with phishing attacks. However, these new spam and phishing campaigns are more dangerous than traditional attacks against email systems because they are far more personalized. By leveraging the social Web to identify sensitive information about targeted users (e.g., demographics, friendships, etc.), attackers can generate user-specific content to maximize the potency of their attacks. Thus, the second social Web attack class consists of "socially enhanced" attacks that are more difficult to counter due to this additional layer of deception.


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