IT security employees likely to disclose what appears to be sensitive information on social networks

September 2010 Information Security

Study reveals that 81% of a large social network's users would accept as a friend and confide in a 21-year-old blonde lady without taking too many precautions

BitDefender is today warning social networking devotees, among whom are IT employees, to be very careful when accepting friend requests within the network and to mind what data they share with these persons they barely know.

According to a new BitDefender experiment, the users of social networking platforms do not appear to be too preoccupied either about the real identity of the persons they meet on-line or about the details they disclose while chatting with these total strangers. Conducted over two weeks, this experiment revealed that 94% of those asked to add as their friend an unknown young woman, accepted the friendship request without having a clue about who the requester really was. Truth be told, 13% of this user pool did, however, bother to ask whether they had met the blonde girl face-to-face or not.

The experiment was conducted on a cluster of 2000 users from all over the world registered on one of the most popular social networks. These users were randomly chosen in order to cover different aspects: sex (1000 females, 1000 males), age (the sample ranged from 17 to 65 years with a mean age of 27,3 years), professional affiliation, interests etc.

In a first step, the users were only requested to add the unknown lady as their friend, while in the second step several conversations with randomly selected users aimed at determining what kind of details the social networking aficionados would disclose to that lady.

The experiment showed that more than 86% of the credulous users who accepted to become the test-profile's friends come from the IT industry, with 31% of them working in IT security. The most frequent reason for accepting the unknown young blonde as a friend was her 'lovely face' (53%).

"The puzzling reaction of IT security employees confronted with possible privacy threats, such as those described in the experiment, contradicts, to some extent, the general attitude towards such issues, as almost all security companies lay stress on the risks associated with social networks. In other words, it seems like policies and regulations simply disappear exactly in an environment where they supposedly are stricter than elsewhere." said Sabina Datcu, BitDefender E-Threat Analysis and Communication specialist, author of the experiment.

Moreover, the experiment also revealed that the most vulnerable users seem to be the same IT industry employees - after a half an hour conversation, 10% of them disclosed to 'the blonde face' personal sensitive information, such as: address, phone number, mother's and father's name, etc - information usually requested as answer to password recovery questions. Two hours later, 73% siphoned what appears to be confidential information from their work place, such as future strategies, plans as well as unreleased technologies/software.

"What is most intriguing is the fact that what people will probably never do in a face-to-face real-life situation is blatantly happening under the shelter of an alleged invisibility or anonymity that social networking could induce. Concepts such as 'non-disclosure', 'confidentiality' or 'privacy' suddenly get blurred in the minds of some users when they are chatting on-line with a blonde interlocutor, although the same individuals will probably never say a word about the same topics if they met that blonde lady in person.", Datcu concluded.

More details about the experiment http://www.malwarecity.com/blog/experiment-2-one-two-three-this-blonde-girl-looks-just-like-me-891.html are available on www.malwarecity.com, a BitDefender initiative for the computer security community and a free resource for those interested in their online safety.

No private information from this study will be disclosed or used against the persons that revealed it. No company confidential information will be disclosed or used for personal purposes. The content of the information has not been collected. All trademarks or product names contained herewith are registered trademarks of their owner companies.

For more information contact Alina Anton, senior PR and marketing coordinator, EMEA & APAC Business Unit, Bitdefender, +40 212 063 470, aanton@bitdefender.com, www.bitdefender.com





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