Facebook Pwn tool steals profile info, helps social engineers

A tool created by a team of security researchers dupes Facebook users into briefly accepting a friend request in order to harvest hidden data that can be used later for a social-engineering-based scam

A group of security researchers based in Egypt have created a tool that will make social engineering easier because it automates the collection of hidden Facebook profile data that is otherwise only accessible to friends in a user's network. But one of the men behind it's creation says he aims to educate both users and Facebook by releasing it into the wild.

The cross-platform, Java-based tool is called "Facebook Pwn" and is described by those who developed it as a "Facebook profile dumper."

"(The tool) sends friend requests to a list of Facebook profiles, and polls for the acceptance notification. Once the victim accepts the invitation, it dumps all their information, photos and friend list to a local folder," the description notes.

See also: Social engineering: The basics

In a typical scenario described by the researchers, the hacker starts by gathering information from a user profile by creating a new blank account.

Then, using what they call a "friending plugin" one can add all the friends of the victim. This will ensure you have some common friends with the victim, the researchers note.

Next, a cloning plugin asks you to choose one of the victims friends. Then, the cloning plugin clones only the display picture and the display name of the chosen friend of victim and sets it to the authenticated account.

Afterwards, a friend request is sent to the victim's account. The dumper polls, waiting for the friend to accept, the description explains. As soon as the victim accepts the friend request, the dumper starts to save all accessible HTML pages (info, images, tags,etc.) for offline examining.

"After a few minutes, probably the victim will unfriend the fake account after he/she figures out it's a fake, but probably it's too late!" the researchers explain in their post.

What the hacker will now have access to is a host of information that can then be used to execute a number of different social engineering attacks. For example, a victim is more likely to open a malicious email attachment used in a spear phishing attempt if it looks legitimate. The more personal details a criminal has at their disposal, the more convincing their attack can be.

[Also see: 5 tips to avoid getting phished]

The team responsible for the tool note on the project's Google code site that it was developed as a "proof of concept" and should be used at one's own risk and not be "abused." One of the researchers behind the tool, Ahmed Saafan, a Senior Information Security Analyst and Technical Team Lead with Raya IT Security Services, said his team concluded that they would release the tool the old "full disclosure" way.

Saafan said the main goals for the release is user awareness for what is happening already in the wild but in a covert way.

"I already have many seen cases of innocent people being socially engineered and blackmailed because they do not know the implications of their actions online," Saafan told CSO in an email. "This tool should make the people aware of the implications of their actions online. Accepting friend requests for even the smallest period of time without manually verifying that the friend is actually who he claims to be, is an example of wrong actions that we wanted to demonstrate. I have tried telling as many social media entities as possible about our PoC so that people get to know the risks as fast as possible and start being more careful about what they do online. Also, with the code being online, we tried to send a message of good intention; that we are not hiding anything within the binary code and that we don't want any compensation."

Saafan also said he hopes to being Facebook attention to their flawed user verification process.

"From Facebook's perspective, I think Facebook should have a more strict policy for verifying that people are who they claim to be, and filter out fake or impersonating accounts," Saafan wrote. "I know that this contradicts with usability in a great way, but Facebook should figure out a way to do it. The tool demonstrates the risks that are already out there for user impersonation. I believe without fake accounts on Facebook, people wouldn't risk their own account to be used in cons, or at least the numbers will be reduced significantly."

Saafan also noted there have been successful examples of full disclosure, and pointed to Fire Sheep as proof.

"I think Firesheep has achieved in a very short time a significant amount of user awareness and got the people's attention to the importance of SSL without being abused (to a great extent)," he wrote. "However, now, non-technical users think as long as they have SSL enabled they are safe. So the tool is just another step into having —hopefully— a more secure cyber social network.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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