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Spam Finds New Target

Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. are building up their forces to fight an emerging enemy: "social" spam.

One of their foot soldiers is Tao Stein, a Facebook engineer. At 4 a.m. one May morning, Mr. Stein was jolted out of bed by a spam alert on his cellphone. Facebook was being inundated with messages that read, "hey check out this link FREE IPAD." But there was no free iPad—just malware that caused Facebook users who clicked on the link to unintentionally rebroadcast the annoying message to friends.

Mr. Stein switched on his coffee pot and logged on to his computer, launching a program to filter out the iPad offers. He adjusted his filter as the spammers quickly modified their come-on to evade it. "We have to continue iterating until we find their Achilles' heel," says Mr. Stein, whose efforts stemmed the tide only for about a day.

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. Criminals find social networks alluring because they can spread messages though a chain of trusted sources.

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


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News 2 years ago



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