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Security Vacuum - Anything Better Than Nothing?

"I don't have a Facebook account as I am worried about privacy/identity theft/my boss knowing what I did last Saturday/my patients/pupils/clients seeing what I did last Saturday...".  A fair assumption you would think?  Facebook can easily be replaced with any other on line account linked to the personality of an individual such as LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter and so on.

Whilst there are various settings that can now be put in place to increase privacy on some of the social networking sites, suspicion still remains.  However, what would happen if you didn't create a Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn account?  Sure, there would be a definite reduction in risk of any of your personal information, photos or history being made available, as it wouldn't be there in the first place.

But, what would happen if some one else put that information there in your place?

If there is no Facebook account representing you, what is stopping someone from creating one?  That in itself is not difficult and hundreds of fake accounts are created each day.  What would it take to create an account in your name?  A fake email address would be needed.  That is probably the easiest thing to do on line today, with the plethora of free email accounts.  Signup to Facebook, with a minimum of personal information.  First name, last name and ideally a date of birth, but as many leave DoB off due to security issues anyway, not having that information certainly wouldn't raise suspicions.

The next step is to start making that account, look, act and feel like you.  Certainly a picture would help massively.  How difficult would that be for you?  Are professional or social pictures available via Google or would an associate or acquaintance have a picture themselves of you?  Slightly more tricky but not unobtainable.  Next is the big social engineering piece of convincing your friends and family that the on line account is in fact you.  A list of known friends and contacts would be needed, but would they simply question a request from a seemingly trusted source?  Probably not and the request would be accepted without analysis.  Suddenly a would be attacker is in an incredibly powerful position of having assumed your identity, albeit in a small corner of the on line world to small group of your social circle.

In this case, the best form of counter measure, was in fact to set up an account, even if not actively being used.  A 'get there first' strategy.

The same approach can be applied to the recent DNS changes for new Top Level Domains.  These new domains are covering new specific tags such as .app, .xxx, .game, .free and so on, instead of the more traditional .com or .org.  Whilst many of the big brands such as Google, Amazon and Apple all square up and try to get the extensions that align with their current business goals, what about the domains they're not going after? anyone?  Something as benign as a registration and fake page on a supposedly adult themed extension could reek havoc for an organisations brand and reputation.

As the rise of technical countermeasures becomes more sophisticated and more expensive and time consuming to overcome, organised criminals and hackers are increasingly relying on carefully executed social engineering and fraud related attacks, in order to penetrate corporate networks, personal identities and any other area for monetary reward.

Putting your head in the sand isn't an option and sometimes it's better to provide a more offensive security counter measure than simply react once an attack has occurred.

(Simon Moffatt)


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