Researchers know your Facebook secrets by using 'socialbots'

Internet safety is a topic that we are all commonly reminded of as we move to an increasingly digital age. Now, another reminder of how much we willingly share with those we don't know has been shown, as reported by the BBC.

Using what is known as a 'socialbot', researchers were able to acquire information that a Facebook spokesperson rebuked as being "overstated and unethhical". A socialbot is a botnet adapted for usage on social networks. The worst part of the socialbot's power is how affordable it is. Dubious websites offer the bots for sale over the internet for as little as 29USD, or 18GBP.

A socialbot differs from a normal botnet in the sense that it can pass itself off as a normal Facebook user. A regular botnet is a type of virus that can infect a user's computer, and can make use of this to send out spam or partake in digital attacks against other websites. The socialbot takes control of an existing Facebook account, and is able to perform normal activities, such as posting statuses and sending friend requests.

The research was performed by four members of the University of British Columbia, with 102 socialbots being commanded by one 'master'. The master sends commands to the other bots, which they then act upon. These commands would likely consist of seeking profiles and adding them. In the space of eight weeks, the bots sent out 8,570 friend requests and had 3,055 acceptances. The research showed a relation in the number of Facebook friends a user had, and the likelihood of the socialbot being accepted as a friend.

Remaining within Facebook's limitations for sending friend requests, the bots sent only 25 requests per day. Any more and the bots risked triggering the fraud detection and prevention system existing on Facebook. According to Facebook, the research is not reflective of how they prevent socialbots operating, as the accounts operated from 'trusted' university IP addresses. An IP address used by a real-life criminal operating socialbots would apparently raise alarm bells within the company.

Many people are now growing more aware of friend requests coming 'out of the blue', so to speak, and it reflects how people could be growing more aware of the people seeking to acquire more information, whether you intended to give them the information or not.

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