Lavasoft News - March 2007

MySpace's Adventures in CyberSpace

Since its launch in 2003, MySpace has grown to become the most popular social networking site on the web, boasting over 100 million accounts and 325,000 new registrants daily.

MySpace, owned by Intermix Media, is now in the hands of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, after being sold for 580 million U.S. in July 2005. Then the fifth most viewed Internet domain in the U.S., MySpace has become the third most popular site on the web, even topping the charts on some weeks, according to Alexa Internet.

And from the look of it, MySpace's growth will not be slowing down anytime soon.

News Corp. hopes to more than double the number of countries it serves by the year's end, to reach its target of operating in 11 markets, according to Reuters. MySpace operates in the U.S., the U.K., Ireland, Australia, France, Germany and Japan, has test-launched services in Mexico, Italy, and Spain, and is finalizing a deal to launch a version in China.

MySpace's influence has begun to move even beyond PCs as mobile operators make the move to offer social networking services to their customers. According to reports at the start of February, mobile phone carrier Vodafone agreed to offer MySpace to its European subscribers, following a similar deal last year with the U.S. carrier Cingular Wireless.

As much as the site is loved for its dating, friendship, and professional networking ability, it is criticized in equal measure for its use by cyber-criminals and online predators.

As expected with any site of its size that has messaging, file sharing, and blog capabilities, online threats of all shapes and sizes have flooded MySpace.

One of the most notable attacks occurred last summer, when a banner ad that was seen on MySpace, as well as other sites, used a Windows security flaw to reportedly infect over a million computer users with spyware.

Even with MySpace's reported move to a more aggressive stance on phishing and spam, both are among online scourges members contend with. In January, a scam site mimicking the look of MySpace's log-in page succeeded in stealing the passwords of almost 60,000 members.

MySpace has gone forward with two civil action lawsuits in which the site's members were exploited.

So far this year, MySpace has sued Scott Richter, once accused of being one of the world's top three spammers, for using stolen passwords to access profiles and send spam bulletins. Samy Kamkar was also sentenced to three years of probation, for unleashing a self-propagating cross-site scripting worm on the site.

Security measures for children and teens logging-in to the site have also been heavily criticized by family protection groups.

"The ease with which anyone of any age can create a page, upload photos, share deeply personal details of their lives, and make new "friends" quickly turned MySpace into a one-stop shopping mall for online predators," wrote Dan Tynan in a recent PC World article that put MySpace at the top of a wrap-up of "The 25 Worst Web Sites."

In the latest legal action, four American families have filed separate suits against MySpace and News Corp., under allegations that their teenage daughters were victims of sexual predators that solicited them on the service.

In a ruling that may be influential in the outcome of the remaining cases, a federal court in mid-February dismissed a negligence lawsuit filed by the family of one of the teenagers, reaching a decision on the grounds that as an "interactive site," MySpace is protected from material posted on it.

MySpace is taking steps to protect its underage users by attempting to make its site more parent-friendly and safety oriented. It recently came out with the news that "Zephyr," a free software tool to alert parents of the username, age, and location their child lists on their personal profile, is under development.

It has also announced two new privacy safety features - e-mail verification at sign-up and a tool to prevent any members under 18 years of age from being contacted by adults. And in January, it teamed up with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children to distribute Amber alerts, community notifications of missing children, online to its members.

For more information on how to stay safe on MySpace, the site has its own Safety Tips and Tips for Parents.

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One of the so-called "fathers of the Internet" claims 100-150 million of the 600 million online computers are virus-infected components in botnet networks of PCs under control of hackers. Read who said it and what other predictions he makes in our story, "Battling the Botnet Pandemic."
Term of the Month
Botnet, shortened from roBOT NETwork, is a network of compromised PCs. It is a type of Remote Control Software, specifically a collection of software robots, or 'bots', which run autonomously. Botnets have been used for sending spam remotely, installing more spyware without consent, and for other illicit purposes.

Educate yourself by reading more terms in our Spyware Glossary.
Tech Tips
Having up-to-date firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware programs is key in keeping your computer safe, but be prepared in the event of a system crash. Back up your files! Along with confidential documents, think of all those personal photos you may have stored on your PC. Don't lose them! Copy them onto a removable disc and store them in a safe place. It may seem like simple advice, but many computer users don't have any back ups at all.
Letters to the Editor
Many of you who wrote to us feel the so-called "spyware" teacher shouldn't be put behind bars and that malware is the real criminal in this case. Stay tuned to this story as sentencing is handed down March 2. In the meantime, read a few of your letters here (some have been shortened due to space limitations).
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