Fighting to keep bad stuff off Facebook

Not all of the 19 million Facebook "fans" of superstar Lady Gaga have her interests at heart.

During a recent one-week period, 93 malicious links were posted on Lady Gaga's Facebook site to try to trick visitors into downloading dangerous malware. Plus, 372 postings were just pure spam and 1,717 "fans" were mouthing profanity.

Top Web sites riskier than porn

That's according to Websense, which this week is announcing general availability of a service called Defensio. Developed in cooperation with Facebook, it's designed to filter out this kind of garbage before it hits the Facebook page of any business or consumer.

Today, the people who support Facebook sites such as Lady Gaga's generally clean up the malware links and inappropriate commentary manually, says Dave Meizlik, director of product marketing and communications at Websense.

"This is an ongoing issue for many of these 'fan pages' because they're trying to stop it," Meizlik says. Behind the scenes you'll often find a cadre of busy workers manually stripping out offending posts.

The Websense Defensio 2.0 cloud-based service uses an application protocol interface that works with Facebook to inspect content before it's posted to filter out undesirable links and words.

"You can quarantine comments or block them," Meizlik says. The person trying to make an undesirable posting would get a message indicating the content was inspected, and perhaps rejected.

Websense, which acquired start-up Defensio last year, will continue to offer the Defensio service free to consumers for personal use on Facebook. The generally-available service for businesses starts at $299 per year and runs up to about $8,000 per year, based on volume.

Defensio, which requires no software to be installed, has a remote management component that lets administrators configure quarantining or blocking of content based on 90 categories, such as blocking malicious code and executables, hate speech or profanity. Customers can also use keyword-based filtering and customizable settings that Websense has already developed for its Web-based filtering service.

Meizlik says the patterns that Websense is seeing through its work with Defensio suggest most malicious links posted on Facebook pages try to lead a victim off to what might appear to be a legitimate site but is actually tainted with malicious code.

In that respect, Facebook faces the same pattern of abuse as the Web in general. However, Meizlik adds there is also a trend whereby malicious links on Facebook will try to drag Facebook users over to another Facebook page, too, and keep bad actions inside Facebook. The purpose is typically to get victims to install malicious code that will give an attacker control over a compromised machine.

Read more about wide area network in Network World's Wide Area Network section.

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