One of the sessions I enjoyed at DefCon was Nathan Hamiel and Shawn Moyer’s, “Satan is on My Friends List”. Aside from directly hacking the security of some of these sites, they experimented with creating fake profiles of known individuals and seeing who they could fool. Notably, they created a profile (with permission) for Marcus Ranum on LinkedIn, then tried to see how many people they could fool into connecting to it. Yes, folks, I fell for it.
In my case it wasn’t that big a deal- I only use LinkedIn as a rolodex, and always default to known email accounts before hopping into it. But that’s not how everyone sees it, and many people use it to ask questions, connect to people they want to be associated with but aren’t really connected to. Someone behind a fake profile could spoof all sorts of communications to either gather information or manipulate connections for nefarious reasons (pumping stock prices, getting fake references, disinformation campaigns, and so on). All social networks are vulnerable to manipulation, real world or virtual, but when you remove face to face interaction you eliminate the biggest barrier to spoofing.
I avoid some of this by only linking to people I know, have met, and have a reason to keep in contact with. If you’ve sent me a link request because you read the blog or listen to the podcast, and I haven’t responded, that’s why. Otherwise it loses any usefulness as a tool for me.
One of Shawn’s recommendations for protecting yourself is to build a profile, even if you don’t actively use it, on all the social networks. Thus I now have MySpace and Facebook pages under my real name, tied to a throwaway email account here at Securosis. WIll it help? Maybe not- it’s easy for someone to create another account with my name and a different email address, but after I tie in a few friends that should reasonably draw people to the real me, whatever that’s worth.
One unexpected aspect of this was a brief blast of mortality as Facebook splattered my high school graduating class on a signup page. I haven’t really stayed in touch with many people from high school days; in my mind’s eye they were frozen in the youth and vibrance of those few years we felt we ruled the world. Seeing them suddenly years later, long past the days of teenage hopes and dreams, was a visceral shock to the system. No, we’re not all that old, but at 37 we’re far past any reasonable definition of youth.
Damn you Mr. Moyer. I can forgive you for mildly pwning me in your presentation, but smashing open my vaulted teenage memories with a lance of reality? That sir, I can never forgive.