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"With all the attention on 'virally spreading' links, we wondered, just how effective is it? What's the conversion rate? Links spread virally -- but so what? That's only one step in the process. How many people actually fill out the CPA surveys that make the money?" said Sullivan on the F-Secure blog. CPA -- cost per action -- networks pay affiliates for each survey they return which has been filled out, typically with a person's e-mail address or zip code.
Two recent spam campaigns, both purporting to involve a McDonald's "Happy Meal Horror," used shortened bit.ly links to spread. Happening on a statistics dashboard tied to the attack, Sullivan discovered the spam campaign had netted a combined 32,000 clicks, as well as about 15,000 total "likes" on Facebook. "Clicks to likes, what's the conversion rate? One link has around 40% and the other about 48%," he said.
In terms of spam, "40% is an excellent conversion rate, much better than e-mail spam," said Sullivan. "However, the 32,000 clicks is far less than similar spam from just two months ago when we saw several examples of viral links that yielded hundreds of thousands of clicks." Furthermore, few people actually filled out the survey.
The good news, then, is that while spam is still circulating via Facebook, people seem to be catching on. "Returns are diminishing as people are exposed, develop a resistance, and recognize Facebook spam for what it is," he said.
The bad news, however, is that with CPA surveys as well as the bogus SMS subscriptions touted by many surveys, at least outside of the United States, "social networking spammers don't need to dupe very many people in order to be rewarded for their efforts," said Sullivan.
Of course, Facebook isn't the only social network home to spam. Antivirus firm Sophos, for example, recently detailed a new diet scam that's circulating via Twitter spam, using roughly 114 accounts which appear to have been hacked by attackers guessing their passwords. The accounts are now extolling the virtue of eating Acai Berry pills.
In a blog post, Chester Wisniewski, senior security advisor at Sophos Canada, called on Twitter to tighten its security to prevent attackers from gaining control of accounts with poor passwords. "All of the attacks against Twitter that I have seen are using Twitter's API. This API is plain HTTP, no encryption, and seems to allow unlimited password guessing with no consequences."
To help put a dent in social networking spam, Wisniewski called on Twitter to stop using non-OAuth APIs.