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Cybercriminals Use Social Media for Fraud

Andrew Martins
Andrew Martins

A study says 53% of social media logins are fraudulent and pose risk to online businesses.

  • According to a new study, 53% of social media logins are fraudulent and 25% of all new account signups are fake.
  • Among the top five countries with the most attack origins, the Philippines was the largest source of human and bot attacks, with the U.S. coming in at a "distant second."
  • 59% of attacks from China are human-driven, which is four times more than the U.S., Russia, the Philippines and Indonesia.

Social media has grown substantially in societal importance since the days of Friendster and Myspace. While they're a great tool for communicating with loved ones and keeping up with trends, a recent study found that today's social media channels are rife with fraud.

Earlier today, Arkose Labs released its Q3 Fraud and Abuse Report, in which researchers analyzed more than 1.2 billion real-time interactions with social media, including "account registrations, logins and payments from financial services, e-commerce, travel, social media, gaming and entertainment industries."

What they found was that an estimated 53% of all logins on social media websites are fraudulent and 25% of all new accounts are fake.

"We are in an era where online identity, intent, business, metrics and content can all be faked," said Kevin Gosschalk, CEO of Arkose Labs. "This can have serious security and financial repercussions for any business with an online presence, especially as they try to balance risk management with the delivery of exceptional customer experience."

Gosschalk stated that online fraudsters have access to "sophisticated tools and resources" that make cyberattacks simpler to pull off every day. With the tech changing so frequently, attacks can be tweaked "as long as they remain profitable."

Social media attacks

With platforms like Facebook and Instagram allowing businesses to sell products directly to users, the incentive for cyberattacks is high. According to researchers, more than 75% of attacks on social media are conducted by automated "bot" systems that try to gain access to accounts. Each account comes with a wide array of personal information that can be valuable to third parties.

While many other industries see scores of fraudulent account registrations, researchers reported that social media is unique because login attacks are twice as likely.

"The extremely high attack rate on social media logins is indicative of the value placed on the data fraudsters extract from compromised social accounts," said Gosschalk. "Because more than 50% of social media logins are fraud, we know that fraudsters are using large-scale bots to launch attacks on social media platforms with the goal of disseminating spam, stealing information, spreading social propaganda and executing social engineering campaigns targeting trusting consumers." 

Where and when cyberattacks happen

Companies across the globe exist solely to tackle new and emerging cyberthreats, with clients ranging from small businesses to major conglomerates. To understand the nature of these intrusions, Arkose Labs examined their origins.

The top five countries where the majority of cyberattacks originate are Russia, the United States, the Philippines, the United Kingdom and Indonesia. Of these countries, researchers found that the Philippines had the highest number of outgoing attacks. Those figures included human-driven tactics that require a person at a computer and automated attacks using programs, or "bots."

Bot attacks made up most of the incidents the researchers found. Those transactions ranged from "large-scale account validation attacks to bots blocking seats on an airline to scripted attacks that scrape user data and inventory." On the other side of the spectrum, nearly 60% of Chinese cyberattacks were human-driven, which is over four times more than the U.S., Russia, the Philippines and Indonesia.

"Fraudsters are motivated by financial gain, and they will continue to deploy malicious techniques as long as there is money to be made," said Vanita Pandey, vice president of marketing at Arkose Labs. "Developing economies are quickly becoming fraud hubs because they have easy access to sophisticated tools, cheap manual labor and good economic incentives associated with online fraud."

In addition to the location of origin, Arkose Labs considered when the attacks took place. The method of attack generally depends on the time of day, researchers found, as bad actors try to mimic regular user-traffic patterns. That often means working within normal business hours. The time of year also matters, with both styles of attacks increasing during "high-traffic periods," including tax season in the U.S.

Retail and travel industries hit particularly hard by fraud

Along with where and when cyberattacks happen, researchers examined what industries were targeted the most. As it turns out, the retail and travel industries are at high risk for attacks and fraud.

According to the report, online travel is hit particularly hard because payments are "10 times more likely to be attacked" by bots, resulting in everything from flight seats being fraudulently taken up to increases in ticket prices altogether. Nearly 10% of login attempts on travel sites and just under half of all payments are fraudulent.

While bot attacks target travel sites, retail sites are targeted by human attacks. The wrinkle is that bots are predictable, while humans aren't.

"Our report sheds profound light on the connected nature of the fraud ecosystem, illustrating how fraudsters deploy different calculated strategies, based on industry and business models, to maximize each attack's ROI," Pandey said. "The long-term solution to this problem is not rooted in applying new defenses – because fraud will continue to evolve – but rather to break the economics of the attack and eliminate a fraudster's financial incentive."

Image Credit: Artem Oleshko / Shutterstock
Andrew Martins
Andrew Martins
Business News Daily Staff
Andrew Martins has written more than 300 articles for and Business News Daily focused on the tools and services that small businesses and entrepreneurs need to succeed. Andrew writes about office hardware such as digital copiers, multifunctional printers and wide format printers, as well as critical technology services like live chat and online fax. Andrew has a long history in publishing, having been named a four-time New Jersey Press Award winner.