Social Networks ! For those people who do not know about the social network , what it is and what this blog post is all about, well, here is a quick introduction.
Social Network is
The main point of this discussion is not to find flaws in social networking websites but it is that security gaps are inevitable and all of our information is on these giant networks and for any reason if the information gets leaked, then you are at a loss. Now this is a great thing for Spammers, who harvest email addresses and other personal information.
Social Network Information Harvesting is basically defined as gathering information about people, available on the these social networks. Social Network Information Harvesting can be a service for different kinds of people. Law Enforcement, Criminals, Spammers, Hackers, Intelligence.
SNIH can be applied in many scenarios and the repercussions of this can be quite serious, not for the attacker, but the victims.
SNIH Scenario: [The Scenario is based on Facebook]
Usually what SNIH implementer do is that they create a small game or an application for the users to play or access on the Facebook. Most of the applications ask for permissions like email, statuses, friend-list etc. Now if it is a legitimate application then its a blessing but if it is a malicious one then you can say good bye to any privacy set by the user or the Social Network.
Now the information gathered or harvested can be used to find trends for analysis. This analysis is useful to Law Enforcement Agencies. If personal statuses are harvested then one can determine the tendencies in a person. Similarly If people with malicious intent get hold of this information then, the question arises that except for the obvious, Email Spamming, Harvested pictures selling and buying , Personal information Stealing , cell phone numbers harvesting, what else can they do? Well this takes us to our second Scenario ..
SNIH Scenario 2 : [Disclaimer : This Information is for Educational Purposes. We will not be held responsible for any misuse of this information]
In this scenario we will see an attack that can be carried out by hackers against the innocent users. Though due to two factor authentication this attack might not work but most of us do not opt for two factor authentication.
The attack is on some users email address. Usually when we go to “forget your password”, the system asks us a secret question, which we have to answer in order to reset our password. Now if the hacker goes to some targeted users email and does the above mentioned procedure and for example the secret question is : my favorite pets name. Keep in mind that this account was made some years back and the person doesn’t even remember the question he or she kept, let alone the answer. Now comes the part where a little social engineering would help alot. The attacker goes on Facebook and if he or she knows the person who is targeted then its a walk in the park, as most of the users information is shown on his or hers profile page or home page, but in this case he would have to ask him or her for the answer. Now if the person is a stranger, what the attacker has to do is to add the target user and start a conversation with him or her and between the chat, after a day or so, he can casually ask about pets and other stuff and then slowly ask : I just bought a dog, what name should I give it and most probably in the users mind , in his subconscious, there is an 80% chance that he or she would tell you the same name. Once the attacker gets the hold of the answer, he just has to go to the email providers account and enter the answer and BOOM ! He is in !
Now what exactly happened was that the attacker used the information available on one social network against another network. The example above requires a little bit of social engineering but usually the questions are my aunts name etc and that can easily be extracted from the information provided by the user on his profile.
To conclude, it is safe to say that Social Network Information Harvesting is wrong because it doesn’t matter if the law enforcement agencies use it or any other people with malicious intent use it, the point is that the user doesn’t know that the information is being harvested. This is in itself a crime whether Law Enforcement is using it or any other person is.
[This is a re-post of the original, posted on 20th of March, 2013, on Xc0re blog.]