Facebook defends security strategy

Shy social network responds to criticism


Analysis Facebook has defended its record in thwarting rogue applications and other security in the face of criticism from security firms that it ought to adopt tighter application controls.

The dominant social network disputes findings from a threat report by UK-based net security firm Sophos, released earlier this week, that spam, malware and other attacks have become more effective against Facebook users over the last year.

Facebook reckons the opposite is true while disputing the methodology adopted by Sophos which it said looked, for example, at the volume of spam sent to Facebook users instead of the volume that reached their in-boxes.

Facebook said: "If your spam filter catches all the spam, does it matter that your filter caught 10 per cent more?"

The social networking site reckons less than three per cent of communications on Facebook are spam, compared to industry estimates that email spam makes up 90 per cent of all electronic messages. The implication is that Sophos is focusing on the wrong problem.

Unfriending rogues

Survey scams have become an almost daily occurrence on Facebook over recent months. Typically they use the lure of an application that a potential victim's friend has been tricked into installing, such as a 'Dislike' button or a link to shocking (invariably bogus) news about a celebrity.

Instead of getting the promised content, victims are invited to navigate their way through a thicket of time-wasting surveys. Scammers earn a kick-back for each victim as affiliates of unethical marketing firms.

More ambitious (and lucrative) scams attempt to trick victims into supplying their mobile number, before signing up to a premium rate text messaging service of questionable utility.

The scams take advantage of human stupidity rather than web security vulnerabilities. Both Sophos and Facebook agree that user education is part of the solution, but the two are split on whether Facebook itself could do more to tighten up its controls on how applications are released onto its platform.

In a statement responding to Sophos' report, Facebook said it has plenty of controls already that limit access to information.

We have built extensive controls into the product, so that now when you add an application it only gets access to very limited data and the user must approve each additional type of data (so we do more than anyone else to educate users about passage of data, and force disclosure and user consent for each category beyond the basics).

We have a dedicated team that does robust review of all third party applications, using a risk based approach. So, that means that we first look at velocity/number of users/types of data shared, and prioritise. This ensures that the team is focused on addressing the biggest risks, rather than just doing a cursory review at the time that an app is first launched.

We make sure that we act swiftly to remove/sanction potentially bad applications before they gain access to data, and involve law enforcement and file civil actions if there is a problem.


Other stories you might like

  • Verizon: Ransomware sees biggest jump in five years
    We're only here for DBIRs

    The cybersecurity landscape continues to expand and evolve rapidly, fueled in large part by the cat-and-mouse game between miscreants trying to get into corporate IT environments and those hired by enterprises and security vendors to keep them out.

    Despite all that, Verizon's annual security breach report is again showing that there are constants in the field, including that ransomware continues to be a fast-growing threat and that the "human element" still plays a central role in most security breaches, whether it's through social engineering, bad decisions, or similar.

    According to the US carrier's 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) released this week [PDF], ransomware accounted for 25 percent of the observed security incidents that occurred between November 1, 2020, and October 31, 2021, and was present in 70 percent of all malware infections. Ransomware outbreaks increased 13 percent year-over-year, a larger increase than the previous five years combined.

    Continue reading
  • Slack-for-engineers Mattermost on open source and data sovereignty
    Control and access are becoming a hot button for orgs

    Interview "It's our data, it's our intellectual property. Being able to migrate it out those systems is near impossible... It was a real frustration for us."

    These were the words of communication and collaboration platform Mattermost's founder and CTO, Corey Hulen, speaking to The Register about open source, sovereignty and audio bridges.

    "Some of the history of Mattermost is exactly that problem," says Hulen of the issue of closed source software. "We were using proprietary tools – we were not a collaboration platform before, we were a games company before – [and] we were extremely frustrated because we couldn't get our intellectual property out of those systems..."

    Continue reading
  • UK government having hard time complying with its own IR35 tax rules
    This shouldn't come as much of a surprise if you've been reading the headlines at all

    Government departments are guilty of high levels of non-compliance with the UK's off-payroll tax regime, according to a report by MPs.

    Difficulties meeting the IR35 rules, which apply to many IT contractors, in central government reflect poor implementation by Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and other government bodies, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said.

    "Central government is spending hundreds of millions of pounds to cover tax owed for individuals wrongly assessed as self-employed. Government departments and agencies owed, or expected to owe, HMRC £263 million in 2020–21 due to incorrect administration of the rules," the report said.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022