It’s Time to Take Social Media Impersonation Attacks Seriously

Publication date: Jun 30, 2022

Last Published: Jul 21, 2022

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Cybercriminals are constantly seeking new avenues of exploitation. The massive growth of social media since the early years of the 21st century has been providing them with seemingly endless opportunities to apply the same old tactics in different contexts.

In this article, we explain a dangerous threat that’s spreading across social media sites like wildfire. The name of this threat is social media impersonation, and its victims can be both organizations and their customers.

What Are Social Media Impersonation Attacks?

Social media impersonation attacks are forms of digital identity theft, a crime in which a malicious actor uses someone else’s personal information to commit fraud.

Such attacks take advantage of the open nature of most social media networks. Usually, the attacker creates a fake profile to impersonate a real person or organization.

To make the fake profile seem legitimate, the attacker may use the real person’s or organization’s name, profile picture, and contact information.

Once the fake profile is ready, the attacker can use it for a range of malicious purposes, including:

  • Phishing: By pretending to be a real employee, the attacker can connect with other employees who are working for the same organization. They can then harvest sensitive information from them or ask them to authorize financial transactions.
  • Scamming: The attacker can impersonate a legitimate business to scam its customers and partners by sending them to a fake website, making them pay for products and services that they’ll never receive.
  • Disinformation: Social media impersonation can also be used to spread damaging disinformation about individuals and organizations.

Social Media Impersonation Attacks Are a Growing Business

The percentage of US adults who use social media has increased from 5 percent in 2005 to 79 percent in 2019, and it keeps growing at a steady pace.

According to a Quarterly Threat Trends and Intelligence Report published by PhishLabs, the leading provider of Digital Risk Protection solutions, the number of social-media-related phishing attacks experienced by the average organization rose from 34 attacks per month in January 2021 to around 50 by June 2021.

The cost of social media impersonation attacks is more difficult to determine because many attacks go unreported. We know, however, that about $770 million in losses to fraud initiated on social media platforms were reported by US consumers in 2021.

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How to Defend Against Social Media Impersonation Attacks

Social media impersonation attacks can take many different forms and cause substantial financial and reputational damage. The good news is that organizations are not defenseless against them.

Here’s what you can do to keep social media impersonation attacks at bay:

1. Verify Your Profile

Most social media sites let users verify their profiles to indicate that they are really maintained by the people or organizations they represent.

Social media profile verification is a very powerful defense against social media impersonation attacks because more and more users are learning not to interact with unverified profiles.

2. Monitor Social Media Activity

Because of how serious the threat of social media impersonation has become, there are already multiple cybersecurity solutions providers that offer social media monitoring services.

Users of these services receive alerts when someone tries to impersonate them, giving them time to remove the fraudulent accounts before they’re successfully used for malicious purposes.

3. Enable Multi-factor Authentication

A common goal of social media impersonation attacks is to lure victims into providing their personal information, namely usernames and passwords.

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) makes it impossible for cybercriminals to gain access to password-protected resources without providing at least one additional verification factor.

4. Educate Your Employees

Most employees are, at least to some extent, aware of email-based impersonation attacks, so they think twice before responding to unusual requests, opening attachments, and licking on outbound links.

Organizations should strive to achieve the same level of awareness when it comes to social media impersonation attacks by organizing cybersecurity awareness training sessions for their employees.

5. Report Social Media Impersonation Attacks

Social media impersonation attacks are crimes, and the US government encourages all those who encounter them to report them to a state consumer protection office or a relevant government agency, such as the Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Conclusion on Social Media Impersonation

Social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram have made it possible for organizations to nurture relationships with customers and business partners alike. Unfortunately, the same sites have also given cybercriminals new avenues of exploitation. Social media impersonation attacks are a relatively new social media cybersecurity threat that’s already causing substantial financial and reputational damage, and all organizations need to respond to it before it’s too late. Contact professionals to discuss your business’s cyber security.

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