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Cisco warns of risks from news scams on social media

16 Oct 2012
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Security researchers with Cisco are advising users to remain sceptical of news reports circulating on social media sites like Twitter.

The company said that users could find themselves in danger of attacks should they buy into the hysteria and panic caused by attempts to circulate false pieces of news on social networking sites such as Twitter.

Cisco corporate security global threat analyst Jean Gordon Kocienda said that recent incidents in which the public has spread hoaxes or satirical items as genuine news have underscored the risk users face from the manipulation of social media services and news feed.

Kocienda suggested a scenario in which a terrorist group could use disinformation on social networks to breed fear in users or steer individuals to locations which could then be targeted for attacks.

Further complicating matters, said the researcher, is an increasing reliance by media organisations on social networking sites for breaking news reports.

"The first safeguard against falling for fabricated stories is to confirm the story across multiple sources. In the old days, journalists did this job for us, so that by the time we read or heard the news, it was vetted," the researcher wrote in a blog post.

"These days, journalists are getting their stories from the same Twitter feeds that we are, and if several of us fall for the same story, we can easily mistake re-tweets for triangulation."

False news items and outrageous reports have long been a favoured tactic for online attacks. Malware writers have for years used the lure of news coverage and video reports on popular topics as a means for bringing users to attack sites and malware downloaders.

The danger, however, could also spill over into the real world, said Kocienda.

"It isn’t hard to imagine a scenario in which a terrorist coordinates on-the-ground attacks with misleading tweets with the intent to clog roads or phone lines, or send people into the path of danger," the analyst explained.

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Shaun Nichols
About

Shaun Nichols is the US correspondent for V3.co.uk. He has been with the company since 2006, originally joining as a news intern at the site's San Francisco offices.

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