Detecting and characterizing social spam campaigns

Gao, Hongyu; Hu, Jun; Wilson, Christo; Li, Zhichun; Chen, Yan; Zhao, Ben Y.

Online social networks (OSNs) are popular collaboration and communication tools for millions of users and their friends. Unfortunately, in the wrong hands, they are also effective tools for executing spam campaigns and spreading malware. Intuitively, a user is more likely to respond to a message from a Facebook friend than from a stranger, thus making social spam a more effective distribution mechanism than traditional email. In fact, existing evidence shows malicious entities are already attempting to compromise OSN account credentials to support these “high-return” spam campaigns. In this paper, we present an initial study to quantify and characterize spam campaigns launched using accounts on online social networks. We study a large anonymized dataset of asynchronous “wall” messages between Facebook users. We analyze all wall messages received by roughly 3.5 million Facebook users (more than 187 million messages in all), and use a set of automated techniques to detect and characterize coordinated spam campaigns. Our system detected roughly 200,000 malicious wall posts with embed- ded URLs, originating from more than 57,000 user accounts. We find that more than 70% of all malicious wall posts advertise phishing sites. We also study the characteristics of malicious accounts, and see that more than 97% are compromised accounts, rather than “fake” accounts created solely for the purpose of spamming. Finally, we observe that, when adjusted to the local time of the sender, spamming dominates actual wall post activity in the early morning hours, when normal users are asleep.