The Danger of Apps
Nowadays, it is rare to come across someone who has never heard of the ever-growing social networking sites that dominate the internet: Myspace, Twitter, Friendster and Facebook. What most people do not know, however, is that several glaring holes exist in Facebook’s security framework that could jeopardize the privacy and safety of its 400 million users. In 2007, Facebook launched its application development project, which permits third-party developers of companies and individuals to generate applications. These programs, which require user verification to access personal information, cover everything from games and quizzes to horoscopes and cookbooks. According to the Facebook Developers’ Platform, once a user confirms the program, the third-party can latch onto all the following information: “…your name, your profile picture, your birthday, your hometown location, your current location, your political views, your activities, your interests, your relationship status, your dating interests, your relationship interests, your summer plans, your Facebook user network affiliations, your education history, your work history, copies of photos in your Facebook Site photo albums and a list of user IDs mapped to your Facebook friends.” Applications can also retrieve virtually any user’s information whether or not he or she adds them; they only need a friend of the user to enable the program in order to do so. IT Security specialists claim that simple access to such private information could theoretically be used to snag login data for accounts on other social networking sites, email passwords, and frighteningly, a user’s social security number, which would cement the identity theft. At that point, a hacker could get hold of an individual’s loans, credit, property records, and telephone and bank accounts. However, applications are not the only security risk. Recently, there was a widespread phishing hoax started by hackers impersonating the Facebook Team. They circulated an e-mail claiming Facebook had altered a user’s password for heightened security and attached new account information. The attachment would install a malicious software once it was activated, prompting Facebook security personnel to post an alert on March 17 that urged users to “delete it from your inbox, and warn your friends.” In addition to cyber crime, Facebook is also used by college admission officers and employers to evaluate potential candidates. Although UC Irvine focuses only on the application materials students submit,w according to Deborah Decker, Associate Director of Admissions, a poll taken by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling showed that roughly 25 percent of participating colleges and universities use Facebook to gain a more comprehensive picture of prospective students. Of those institutions, 38 percent admitted that their perception of certain students had been “negatively affected” by Facebook investigation. In response to an increase in social networking participants, the staff at UCI’s Career Center hopes to channel students’ interest in networking in ways that positively contribute to their resumes. Currently, the counselors are developing workshops for students on internet safety and successfully developing professional contacts. “We formed a committee to educate students on how to utilize Linkedin as a networking tool,” said Kathy Dotson, a Career Counselor. “We’re really going to be looking at teaching students on how to safeguard their privacy while making connections with companies or employers.” By exposing the dangers lurking in websites like Facebook, the workshops could help reduce the ten million identity fraud cases that occur in the United States each year and prepare students for handling a world becoming ever more computerized.