Sep 272010
Authors: Rachel Childs

A quick trip to a friend’s Facebook page reveals his or her life story.

It is all too easy to find a birthday, location, favorite color and family history on one page. A person’s mood, political views and what they ate for breakfast on Tuesday are posted for all eyes to see.

But is there a defense?

The National Science Foundation in early September awarded CSU computer science professors Dan Massey and Christos Papadopoulos a $750,000 grant to work with a national team to develop security for the ever-evolving Internet.

Their new system will allow the information to stay mobile yet secure, instead of being locked within a server and bogging down the system.

This way, hackers will have to work harder to create a good fake website in order to trick people into entering passwords and other personal information, the duo said. Massey and

Papadopoulos will work for the next three years to develop their project.

People often do not consider that their posts are visible to someone other than their friends. Text, pictures and anything else entered into the Internet is trapped there, free for anyone to look up anytime.

“Not only are you putting it out there for the whole world, you’re putting it out there permanently,” Massey said.

Convenient smart-phone applications have mobilized social media. This challenges the old Internet and its capabilities.

“Any stop at any airport, at any cafe, at any campus where you go with your mobile device, there’s an opportunity for someone to jump in the middle and impersonate the server you want to go to and essentially trick you into going to their site,” Papadopoulos said.

Jonathan Lovato, a junior ethnic studies major, uses Facebook on the computer and on his phone but said he rarely shares personal details.

“I think some of it is on the person that does it. Some people just put way too much,” Lovato said.

The ease of access by people can be limited. Sites like Facebook and Myspace provide security options that prevent strangers from acquiring certain details.

Block lists and limited profile access are ways people can make sure their valuable information remains among friends.

Social media security breaches have popped up in the last year. A hacker entered micro-blog site Twitter on Sept. 21 and took control of user profiles. Links led users to pornography sites and spread cyber “worms” throughout the day.

Hackers also recently impersonated Interpol Security General Robert K. Noble via Facebook to solicit information about internationally wanted criminals.

This prompted Facebook to tighten security settings to prevent harmful spam from reaching its users.

Adam Smith, sergeant for CSU’s Police Department, knows about the easy access people have, even at CSU. He worked on the CSUPD Investigations Department and saw first-hand the impact a few innocent status updates can have.

In 2007, he handled a case in which a hacker used information on Facebook to answer e-mail security questions and take control of other people’s accounts.

Smith and other officers on the team must trace the paper trails and talk to banks in order to quell the financial damage after someone’s personal security has been violated.

“It isn’t that there’s a significantly bigger criminal element in our community,” Smith said. “It just makes the opportunistic crimes easier and it gives the same criminals a different way to exploit, a different way to commit the crimes against victims.”

Instances like these can lead to financial ruin and Smith said a hacker can take any small piece of information and use it to ruin someone’s finances or endanger their personal safety.

Identity theft, Smith said, is a felony charge that can lead to fines and up to 20 years in jail.

“All of those things, when shared on an open social network profile, just invite the community at large to have a glimpse into your world,” he added.

Crime beat reporter Rachel Childs can be reached at

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