Spam, one of the Internet's oldest annoyances, is gearing up for a second act. Unlike traditional email spam, which usually comes from strangers, this new form—dubbed "social" spam—often appears to be from a friend.
Social spam is growing as attacks launched via traditional email come-ons appear to be declining. In November, 70.5% of all email was spam, down from a recent high of 92.2% in August 2010, according to security-software maker Symantec Corp. Improved filters and law enforcement have made email attacks increasingly difficult.
Such spam puts the usefulness of social networking at risk. Facebook says less than 4% of the content shared on its site is spam and Twitter says just 1.5% of all tweets were "spammy" in 2010. But Facebook adds that the volume is growing faster than its user base. On any given day, spam hits less than 0.5% of Facebook users, or some four million people.
Hackers commonly sow social spam by creating false Facebook profiles and then "friending" people they don't know. Once the new friend clicks on a bad link, the spam begins propagating as his other friends do the same. And it can get started through nefarious third-party apps, or when people download malware outside Facebook or Twitter that gives hackers control of their computers.
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