Return of the Guru

Spam Finds New Life on Social Networking Sites

Ara Trembly
Insurance Experts' Forum, January 13, 2011

Spam—unauthorized commercial messages delivered to us via e-mail—has been with us for so long that many of us are probably just resigned to the fact that if we can’t filter it out (and often we can’t), we’ll just have to spend time deleting it.

And no matter how much we complain or how much our politicians try to look like they’re doing something about this problem, it seems there is no end in sight. Thus, a number of Internet sites are reporting that after a holiday hiatus, spammers have returned to ply their trade—boosting bogus products.

During the Christmas season, spam volumes plummeted, falling to just 25% of the August 2010 levels, the reports say. But spammers are now back at work, and experts say the numbers are increasing again.

Interestingly, spam conducted through social networking services, primarily Facebook, did not wane during the holidays, according to Patrik Runald, senior manager of security research at Websense, as quoted in several reports. This gives credence to previous reports that social-network-driven spam has become an important new weapon in the spammer arsenal.

“Spam is all social engineering driven,” Runald pointed out. “But the success of spam on Facebook is four or five times that of e-mail spam because it's coming from a friend or a friend of a friend.”

It’s also important to remember here that spam, while it is the electronic equivalent of junk mail, is far more pernicious than the paper version. That’s because spam messages contain hyperlinks that might take you to a product site, or they might just as well load malware on your computer or redirect you to a pornography site, an online “pharmacy” or any number of undesirable places. Insurers and agents need to take particular note of these facts, because that message that redirects or infects an innocent user may appear to come from your company or your agency. If something really bad follows, you may find yourself at the wrong end of a lawsuit, or at the very least with an irate consumer who will never again buy from you.

The real danger is that we are so used to spam that we give up the fight against it. Especially now, with social networking sites being hijacked into the spam arsenal, we cannot ignore the real danger. This kind of thing can only grow, and that growth will continue as long as there is money to be made from spamming. I have to admit that I don’t foresee that income stream drying up any time soon.

Perhaps the best we in insurance can do is to severely limit our exposure online—especially on social networking sites—and to be quick to let people know that we will NOT send them commercial messages unbidden.

Of course, that will only work if we really will refrain from sending such messages. The reality is that spamming goes on in our industry as much as in others. Those who do it need to feel the opprobrium of the rest of the industry. Will that ever happen? It is doubtful.

Ara C. Trembly (www.aratremblytechnology.com) is the founder of Ara Trembly, The Tech Consultant, and a longtime observer of technology in insurance and financial services.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Ara using the “Add Your Comments” box below. He can also be reached at ara@aratremblytechnology.com.

This blog was exclusively written for Insurance Networking News. It may not be reposted or reused without permission from Insurance Networking News.

The opinions of bloggers on www.insurancenetworking.com do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News.

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