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The Underground Economy of Social Networks 84

An anonymous reader writes "In a new study, Barracuda Labs analyzed a random sampling of more than 70,000 fake Twitter accounts that are being used to sell fake Twitter followers. They also analyzed some of the people that are using such fake followers including the recent example of U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney's Twitter account. Between Facebook's 10-Q filing stating that 83 million of its accounts are fake, to Mitt Romney's Twitter account recently falling under scrutiny for suspicious followings, fake social network profiles are a hot topic at the moment. And these fake profiles are at the center of a very vibrant and growing underground economy. This underground economy consists of dealers who create and sell the use of thousands of fake social accounts, and abusers who buy follows or likes from these fake accounts to boost their perceived popularity, sell advertising based on their now large social audience or conduct other malicious activity."
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The Underground Economy of Social Networks

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  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @01:25PM (#40907269) Homepage

    Our paper from November 2011, "Social is bad for search, and search is bad for social" [], covered this last year.

    Barracuda Networks doesn't even seem to have published a paper. (The article linked in the Slashdot article is a scraper site for press releases.) The Barracuda press release [] points to an "infographic" [] and a blog posting [] which, as their only outside source, links to a black hat site. []

    Barracuda doesn't seem to have discovered the extent of the social spamming ecosystem. We identified at least 6 levels:

    • Advertising agencies.
    • SEO firms. ("Google Places Guaranteed")
    • Fake review, "like", "+1", and "retweet" generators. ("Buy Facebook Fans with us today and watch your popularity boom.")
    • Fake account generators, both automated and outsourced to low-wage countries. ("Bulk Accounts is the largest mass account generator out there. ...Gmail, Myspace, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Hotmail and much more...")
    • Fake IP address proxies and fake phone numbers ("Premium Private Proxies", "Top Quality CL Phone Numbers used to create Craigslist PVAs")
    • Botnet operators providing proxies on compromised machines. Now we're down at the organized crime level.

    This structure insulates the legitimate businesses who use ad agencies from the criminal activity at the bottom. Except for the botnet operators, everybody in that ecosystem has some kind of web presence, although towards the bottom, they usually have only Skype and Gmail accounts as contacts. I'm not going to link to them here, but our paper gives actual names.

Nothing succeeds like the appearance of success. -- Christopher Lascl