Six rising threats from cybercriminals

Watch out for these cyberattacks that can turn smartphones into texting botnets, shut off electricity, jam GPS signals and more

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3. Social network account spoofing

Many of us use Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networks to connect with friends, family and colleagues -- which leaves us vulnerable to a new technique called social network account spoofing. The idea is that a scammer poses as either someone you know or a friend of a friend to get close to you and fool you into revealing personal information. He then uses that information to gain access to your other accounts and eventually steal your identity.

In a typical exploit, says Joffe, someone contacts you on a service like Facebook or LinkedIn, posing as a friend of a friend or a co-worker of someone you trust. Then, the new "friend" contacts you directly, usually through text message or email. It might seem surprising to have this "friend" contact you outside the social network, but he seems legitimate because you believe he has a connection with someone you trust.

In another scenario, a scammer might impersonate someone you already know -- claiming to be an old friend from high school, for instance. Spoofers can find out your connections by following your public feeds or looking up the names of co-workers on sites like LinkedIn where you have posted your work info.

Once the scammer has established a connection with you, he uses devious means to steal personal data, such as chatting to find out the names of family members, favorite bands, hobbies and other seemingly innocuous information -- then trying those as passwords or answers to security questions at banking sites, webmail accounts or other sites.

As Joffe points out, the idea behind social network account spoofing is "thousands of years old." Conning you out of your personal information is an age-old trick. Today's social networks just provide a new avenue for con artists and criminals to get close to you. The trick works because there is often no way to know whether someone you've come to trust online is actually who he says he is.

"The problem with communication by Facebook or LinkedIn is that you are stuck in a Web interface -- you can't check the IP address or header information. Everything is in a nice friendly world," Joffe says.

Stratum Security's Morehouse says criminals are becoming increasingly crafty on social networks: They first identify a target, then do the research -- what is this person like, whom do they follow, what do they like to do?

What's more, social network attacks are sometimes combined with email and website spoofing, Morehouse says. You might develop a friendship on LinkedIn and then get an email from that person that looks like it was sent via LinkedIn but is actually a fake. When you click the link to reply to the message, you're taken to a fake LinkedIn site; logging in there reveals your LinkedIn username and password to the spoofer.

LinkedIn email spoof
The email message above looks like it came from one of your LinkedIn friends, but look closely at the domain name and you'll see it's a fake.
LinkedIn site spoof
If you click on a fake LinkedIn message, you'll see a fake site -- a ploy to steal your log-in and password.
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