Cybercriminals are increasingly targeting social networks, prompting people to take more steps to protect their online privacy, according to a new survey from security company Webroot.
A survey of nearly 4,000 social-network users in the U.S., U.K., and Australia found that the number of people hit by Koobface and other social-networking malware reached 18 percent this year, compared with 13 percent last year and 8 percent in 2009.
In the United Kingdom specifically, the number of social networks hit by attacks climbed to 15 percent this year, up from 12 percent last year and 6 percent the prior year.
One notable attack that's grown more popular is the "friend in in distress" scam in which a cybercrook masquerades as a friend stuck in a foreign country in need of money. In the U.S., this type of online con job was directed toward 14 percent of those polled this year, compared with just 2 percent in 2009, Webroot reported.
"Threats targeting social networks are continuously being regenerated in new versions so their makers can evade detection and spread their malicious programs relentlessly across users' accounts," Jacques Erasmus, Webroot threat expert, said yesterday in a statement. "Over the last nine months, our threat intelligence network has detected more than 4,000 versions of the Koobface virus hit social network users."
Koobface malware makes a comeback
Security firm warns of new Twitter threat
Social-media malware hurting small businesses
The good news is that people are becoming more aware of the threats and the need to better safeguard their privacy.
The number of social networkers in the U.S. who have never bothered to view or change their privacy settings sunk to 8 percent this year from 37 percent in 2009. In the U.K., that number dropped to 9 percent this year from 31 percent in 2009.
Those paying more attention to their privacy focused on specific settings, including blocking their profiles from public searches, restricting who can find them via an online search, and limiting what people can learn about them through a search.
"Cybercriminals continue to target social networks because they can quickly access a large pool of victims," Erasmus said. "But our findings show that people are becoming aware of this, and they're now savvier about safeguarding their devices and the personal information they share online."
Despite the threats of cyberattacks, many people would find it hard giving up their social networks. Among those surveyed, 54 percent admitted to some level of "addiction" to their favorite social network.
Specifically, 46 percent visit their favorite social network several times a day or constantly. And 42 percent of those people access the site from their mobile devices. Only 18 percent overall said they visit a social-networking site just once a day.
Webroot compiled its results from an online survey of 3,949 Internet users conducted between June 3 and 8.