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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Not able to resist the urge : social insider attacks on Facebook Usmani, Wali Ahmed


Facebook accounts are secured against unauthorized access through passwords, and through device-level security. Those defenses, however, may not be sufficient to prevent social insider attacks, where attackers know their victims, and gain access to their accounts using the victim's device. To characterize these attacks, we ran two Amazon Mechanical Turk studies geographically restricting participant pool to US only. Our major goal was to establish social insider attack prevalence and characteristics to justify a call to action for better protective and preventative countermeasures against it. In the first study involving 1308 participants, we used the list experiment, a quantitative method to estimate that 24% of participants had perpetrated social insider attacks, and that 21% had been victims to it (and knew about it). In the second, qualitative study with 45 participants, we collected stories detailing personal experiences with such attacks. Using thematic analysis, we typified attacks around 5 motivations (fun, curiosity, jealousy, animosity and utility), and explored dimensions associated with each type. Our combined findings indicate a number of trends in social insider attacks. We found that they are common, they can be perpetrated by almost all social relations and often have serious emotional consequences. Effective mitigation would require a variety of approaches as well as better user awareness. Based on the results of our experiments, we propose methodological steps to study the perception of severity of social insider attacks. In this procedure, we include an experimental design of the study and its possible limitations. The study consists of presenting stories collected in the previously mentioned second study to a new cohort of participants. It the asks them to provide a Likert Scale rating and justification for how severe they perceive the attack in the story to be if they were the victim as well as how likely they feel they might be a victim to such an attack. Lastly, we discuss possible future work in creating countermeasures to social insider attacks, their viability and limitations. We conclude that no single technique is complete solution. Instead mitigation will require a number of techniques in combination to be effective.

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