Social spam is taking over the Internet

Bogus accounts and fake comments planted by spambots -- get ready for the future of the social Web.

Remember when the most onerous chore of the day was emptying your email inbox of all the Viagra, bogus home loan, and XXX spam? Nowadays a decent filter will catch at least 95 percent of the junk. That’s why those same spammers – the ones not doing time, at least – have moved onto social networks, where the payoffs are much better and the dirty deeds harder to detect.

Social spammers can make up to ten times more money than email spammers, according to Impermium, a social Web security vendor that polices the commenting networks on sites like Time.com and CNN.com. The reason? A single spam post can be viewed thousands of times, and people are more likely to trust something they’ve seen on Facebook or Twitter from one of their “friends,” says Impermium CEO Mark Risher.

Spammers have even moved into the political arena. Using bots, they have been flooding news and political sites with tens of thousands of comments – 90 percent of them trashing Mitt Romney. In many cases they are being posted by the same networks that are paid to promote online pharmacies and knockoff designer handbags, says Risher. Who’s behind the attacks? That’s unclear (though my money is on one of the Pro-Newt PACs -- just a hunch).

Not only is social spam more virulent and more profitable, the people doing it are much harder to track down than email spammers. For example, many of them operate sleeper cells by creating bogus accounts that sit dormant for months, suddenly wake up and start spewing spam, then go dark again. In one instance, Impermium discovered 30,000 dormant accounts that were activated and spewed out 475,000 spam posts in a single hour, then went back to sleep.

Ironically, as I was writing this post I got a Facebook friend request from one Jessica Ceceli, an attractive 28-year-old with whom I already have 19 friends in common. In fact, nearly all of Jessica’s friends are tech journalists of the male persuasion.

fb jessica ceceli cropped.jpg

It’s easy to see why – Jessica is cute as a button, and the male tech journos I know will click on anything that looks hot in 125 pixels or more. Unfortunately, she’s also fictional. A Tineye search reveals that her photo is really that of Japanese porn star Maria Ozawa.  A Google search for “Jessica Ceceli” finds nothing, nada, zip. For a Facebook user who’s got a thing for technologists, that’s more than a bit unlikely.

Why is someone using an adult actress to lure tech journos into a Facebook friendship? It could be a sleeper cell getting prepared to pepper our timelines with “Likes” for products being paid for by “Jessica’s” employer. In any case, this kind of tactic has been used for some time. Now we are starting to see the reasons behind it.

[UPDATE: "Jessica" has changed her Facebook handle to "Nadja Castelle." Also, he/she uploaded a different picture of Maria Ozawa. And still none of her 'friends' seem to have noticed.]

The other big thing that’s different about social spam? Unlike the email variety, it’s not illegal. That needs to change. Until then, though, brace yourselves for an onslaught of social spam, where no comment forum is safe, and you’re never sure whether the hottie who just friended/followed you is really just a bot. (Trust me, she is.)

Got a question about social media? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the answer (and if not, he’ll make something up). Visit his snarky, occasionally NSFW blog eSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynan_on_tech. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to’s, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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