Social spam is becoming a significant consumer problem, as signaled by an early January article  by the Wall Street Journal and several other recent stories in mainstream media.  The latest is a PC World article which provides consumers a comprehensive summary of various forms of new digital spam and how to prevent it.

We’re encouraged to see the media covering what we’ve seen happening for years.  From our vantage point at Impermium  – tracking millions of social media events daily — there’s a significant increase in the number and sophistication of social spam ploys.   We also know from recent industry research that consumers are more likely to trust and/or click links and messages in social media versus the email domain.

When you intersect the trends of more clever attacks with a less wary consumer, there is a dangerous situation brewing.  If you disagree, just call a couple of friends or family members and ask if they know about some of the newer types of attacks on the social web via fake news sites, clickjacking, sockpuppets, social network malware and Facebook account takeovers.  Likely, they will be unaware.

A relative of an Impermium staff member recently had her Facebook and Gmail accounts taken over simultaneously.  Before it was caught, the hacker sent messages to all of her Facebook friends and email contacts asking for money to recover from a mugging in Madrid.  Unfortunately, at least one person in her friend network was duped into a $2000 trap.  The victim said he saw the message first on Facebook and then sent an email to validate the incident.  And of course, the hacker was ready and waiting on the Gmail account to confirm and send details for a Western Union transfer…

It’s these kinds of stories (which are many)  that make us believe there will be a lot more losses in store.  The social web is a much more complex environment than the email domain ever was, and therefore, the possibilities for attacks are limitless.

And because of this complexity, it won’t be any single firm that stops social spam by itself.  Singular web filters added to the corporate network won’t work either.  Just as Interpol operates as a global crime-fighting network, we are growing the Impermium Alliance with hopes to inspire broad participation among companies and Internet organizations who engage customers on the social web.  If we can achieve critical mass — and fight this problem together — then we have our best chance to curb social spam before it becomes a crippling problem that challenges the growth of the Internet at large.




Mark Risher

Mark Risher is CEO and Co-Founder of Impermium. As the former “Spam Czar” for Yahoo!, he has regularly presented worldwide to government, industry, and consumer groups about spam, abuse, and cyber security issues.

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