Abusing Social Networks for Automated User Profiling

Marco Balduzzi, Christian Platzer, Thorsten Holz, Engin Kirda, Davide Balzarotti, Christopher Kruegel

13th International Symposium on Recent Advances in Intrusion Detection (RAID), Ottawa, Canada, September 2010


Recently, social networks such as Facebook have experienced a huge surge in popularity. The amount of personal information stored on these sites calls for appropriate security precautions to protect this data. In this paper, we describe how we are able to take advantage of a common weakness, namely the fact that an attacker can query popular social networks for registered e-mail addresses on a large scale. Starting with a list of about 10.4 million email addresses, we were able to automatically identify more than 1.2 million user profiles associated with these addresses. By automatically crawling and correlating these profiles, we collect detailed personal information about each user, which we use for automated profiling (i.e., to enrich the information available from each user). Having access to such information would allow an attacker to launch sophisticated, targeted attacks, or to improve the efficiency of spam campaigns. We have contacted the most popular providers, who acknowledged the threat and are currently implementing our proposed countermeasures. Facebook and XING, in particular, have recently fixed the problem.


tags: profiling, Social Networks