August 24, 2011

Follow Me Not - Microblog SEO Study


With the release of Social Web Control, Websense Security Labs™ looks at the growing trend of how you can optimize your popularity ranking on social Web sites such as Twitter and Sina's Weibo.

Marketeers are heavily tuning social Web sites for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in a similar way to standard Web sites, where SEO is still the primary source of information traffic. In parallel, cyber-criminals also use BlackHat SEO to spread malware. A high social Web ranking is becoming an important tool to receive constant exposure and get messages out to the desired target audiences, hence the race from both personal and business microblog users to boost their recognition. To attract or to be featured on microblog platforms, you need a very large follower base in a very short time.

 Weibo.com, being one of the largest microblog platforms in China with over 200 million users, attracted a different kind of user. Seeing potentially unlimited business opportunities, many users were spoofing as famous companies and celebrities to publish false messages to the public. Weibo recently enforced true identity verification as identify theft became an increased problem. To counter this, ranking "smoke-screen" services are popping up, leading to the idea to "Shua Fen": purchase followers. The screenshot below shows 2 Weibo accounts with avatars advertising services for "Microblog, get thousands of followers", and "Paid Followers and get verified". 


These services are actively hooking themselves onto other popular Weibo accounts and there are many ways to obtain them, from the above fake followers to top search engine results such as the example below: 


For example, you can get 10,000 followers within 10 days by simply paying a fee of 1,300 Chinese Yuan (~USD$200). It is a decent investment given the exposure you may get. This is no strange ground to Twitter as well, as seen by listings on eBay: 


Similar to Search Engine Optimization, this activity poses risks to users and organizations, and we predict that cyber-criminals could capitalize on these social Web phenomena. Websense®  is updating the current URL category set today, and new categories will provide more granular control of the social Web and broaden protection in the area of modern security threats. Social Web controls will allow organizations to control and monitor user behavior on popular Web domains, such as, but not limited to: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn.


Forcepoint-authored blog posts are based on discussions with customers and additional research by our content teams.

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