Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Facebook Blames ‘Coordinated Spam Attack’ for Surge in Porn Imagery

Facebook said today that a “coordinated spam attack” was to blame for the posting of pornographic and violent images on the news feeds of unsuspecting Facebook users.

The issue, which first started appearing on Facebook pages a couple days ago according to ZDNet, has generated a growing wave of revulsion online as some users took to Twitter to complain of graphic and lurid imagery that goes far beyond ordinary porn.

“I noticed Facebook porn in my friend feed. New feature? No. A Facebook ‘virus’ shows hardcore porn and violent,” tweeted Christopher Justice, a CEO of an Austin-based online design firm.  Justice later told Digits that he has asked employees at his firm, who use Facebook “like a telephone,” to proceed with caution.

In a statement this afternoon Facebook said that some Facebook users were tricked into pasting and executing “malicious javascript” in their browser URL bar, causing them to share offensive content without knowing it.  Facebook said that it is working on addressing browser vulnerability exposed by the bad code and that it has built “enforcement mechanisms” to shut down malicious Facebook pages and accounts.
“We’ve put in place backend measures to reduce the rate of these attacks and will continue to iterate on our defenses to find new ways to protect people,” a Facebook spokesman said.

Writing on the blog for Internet security firm Sophos earlier today, senior technology consultant Graham Curley said while the while the exact nature of the problem was not known, “What’s clear, however, is that mischief-makers are upsetting many Facebook users and making the social networking site far from a family-friendly place,” Curley wrote.

Facebook has a no-nudity policy and requires that members be at least 13 years old.  Users are encouraged to report questionable content via links on Facebook pages. The social network also removes pornography on its own initiative.

Digits contacted Curley for more guidance on what users can do.  Because details remain sketchy, he said, it’s hard to give advice. “However, we would continue to recommend that users tighten their privacy settings, lock down as much as possible their friends’ ability to tag them in posts and picture, and run up-to-date anti-virus software on their computers.”

He suggested that firms wishing to protect their staff from offensive content might consider blocking Facebook access until the problem is solved.

The problem comes as Facebook gears up to unveil a massive profile page redesign to its 800 million users. The redesign, called Timeline, will take each and every action a user has made on Facebook, and organize them chronologically.  As one can imagine, no one is going to want their online diary soiled by a speck of violent imagery.

Whoever or whatever is to blame, the damage needs to be contained and fast, wrote Curley. “It’s precisely this kind of problem which is likely to drive people away from the site.”

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Symantec: Hackers Hit Chemical Companies

Cyber attacks traced to China targeted at least 48 chemical and military-related companies in an effort to steal technical secrets, a U.S. computer security company said Tuesday, adding to complaints about pervasive Internet crime linked to this country.
The targets included 29 chemical companies and 19 others that make advanced materials used by the military, California-based Symantec Corp. said in a report. It said the group included multiple Fortune 100 companies but did not identify them or say where they were located.
"The purpose of the attacks appears to be industrial espionage, collecting intellectual property for competitive advantage," said the report.
Security experts say China is a center for Internet crime. Attacks against governments, companies and human rights groups have been traced to this country, though finding the precise source is nearly impossible. China's military is a leader in cyberwarfare research but the government has rejected allegations of cyberspying and says it also is a target.
The latest attacks occurred between late July and September and used e-mails sent to companies to plant software dubbed "PoisonIvy" in their computers, Symantec said. It said the same hackers also were involved in attacks earlier this year on human rights groups and auto companies.
Symantec said it traced the attacks to a computer system owned by a Chinese man in his 20s in the central province of Hebei. It said that when contacted, the man provided a contact who would perform "hacking for hire."
Symantec said it could not determine whether the Chinese man was a lone attacker, whether he had a direct or indirect role or whether he hacked the targets for someone else. It called him Covert Grove based on a translation of his Chinese name.
The U.S. and Chinese governments have accused each other of being involved in industrial espionage.
Security consultants say the high skill level of earlier attacks traced to China suggests its military or other government agencies might be stealing technology and trade secrets to help state companies.
The chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, Rep. Mike Rogers, said last month that Chinese efforts to steal U.S. technology over the Internet had reached an "intolerable level." He called on the U.S. and other governments to pressure Beijing to stop.
Another security firm, McAfee Inc., said in August it had found a five-year-long hacking campaign that it called Operation Shady Rat against more than 70 governments, international institutions, corporations and think tanks.
In February, McAfee said hackers operating from China stole information from oil companies in the United States, Taiwan, Greece and Kazakhstan about operations, financing and bidding for oil fields.
Thousands of Chinese computer enthusiasts belong to hacker clubs and experts say some are supported by the military to develop a pool of possible recruits. Experts say military-trained civilians also might work as contractors for companies that want to steal technology or business secrets from rivals.
China has the world's biggest population of Internet users, with more than 450 million people online, and the government promotes Web use for business and education. But experts say security for many computers in China is so poor that they are vulnerable to being taken over and used to hide the source of attacks from elsewhere.
Last year, Google Inc. closed its China-based search engine after complaining of cyber attacks from China against its e-mail service.
That case highlighted the difficulty of tracking hackers. Experts said that even if the Google attacks were traced to a computer in China, it would have to be examined in person to be sure it wasn't hijacked by an attacker abroad.