Study: social media malware on the rise

The rise of malware targeting social media users should especially concern members of the education field.

Few internet success stories have matched the meteoric rise of Facebook. As the popularity of other Web trends ebb and flow, the social media stalwart has seen its user base grow to represent a significant portion of the global population. On average, the website recorded approximately 665 million daily active users in March 2013, showing a 26 percent increase from the same period during the previous year. Furthermore, the number of users who access their account at least once a month increased 23 percent year-over-year, recently reaching 1.11 billion individuals.

The downside to amassing a user base of that size is that it will inevitably draw the attention of hackers. A recent cybersecurity study found that the number of reported data breaches targeting social media users was on the rise. One of the most prolific malware strains was the Koobface program. Hackers have been using the malicious code for years to infect the machines of social media network members, but its presence has grown substantially in recent months. In Q1 2013, researchers discovered nearly three times as many security breach instances involving Koobface compared with the preceding quarter.

Koobface targets social media users with fake messages from family members, friends or other acquaintances, urging them to follow a link to a malicious site where they will be offered a Flash update. However, if the individual agrees to the download, his or her system will become infected with a virulent strain of malware that allows hackers to deploy the machine's computing resources to their botnet campaigns.

Implications for the school networks
The resurgence of Koobface and similar malware strains should be of particular concern to members of the education sector, where social media networks have long enjoyed widespread usage among students. Students who simultaneously work on research papers and access their social media accounts while utilizing their schools' computer labs are inadvertently creating a major network security risk. If a careless student were to download Koobface or other malware of its ilk, the malicious program could spread throughout a computer lab, if not the entire campus network. The resulting operational downtime and computer maintenance tasks would be extremely costly for a university and its IT team.

To prevent such a scenario from occurring, it is always a good practice for schools of any size to employ a robust system restore and recovery solution. By installing these applications across an entire computer lab network, system administrators can set automatic triggers that rollback a machine's configurations to predetermined settings after every session. This will remove any malware that a student may have accidently downloaded while perusing a social media site.

Matt Williams

A self-proclaimed ‘tech geek’, Matt has worked in technology for a decade and divides his time between blogging and working in IT. A huge New York Giants fan, when not watching football Matt gets his game on playing Call of Duty with his friends and other tech bloggers.