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Facebook’s new video chat feature, from a security perspective

Jul 06, 20113 mins
Data and Information Security

Just to show what seven years of security journalism has done to me, I offer the following scenario regarding Facebook’s new video-phone-chat toy.

1:45 p.m.: I’m sitting at my desk, reviewing the first bits of news concerning Facebook’s new Skype partnership and video/phone chat feature when the Facebook chat box opens on my screen.

Kristin called you.

Kristin Burnham is one of my office colleagues. She’s the super-talented social networking writer for sister publication CIO. Sensing danger, I ask her:

Is this an experiment where I’m the gerbil?

Haha yes.

Since she works just across the room it’s easy for me to verify that it’s her on the chat line and not some spammer who has hacked her account to send out the usual malicious links.

I’ve written enough about the social networking battlefield that I just expect something like this to be sinister.

Of course, spamming through the regular Facebook chat function is easy in the sense that you can be invisible. But now we have this new Skype-infused creation Facebook announced in a massive press spectacle. Here’s how Facebook puts in in the company blog:

Over the last year, the messages team has been working to make it easier to have one on one conversations with your friends. In November, we launched the new messages, which brings together your chats, texts, emails and messages all in one place.

The new chat design includes a sidebar that lists the people you message most. Now it’s easier to find your friends and start a conversation. The sidebar adjusts with the size of your browser window, and it automatically appears when the window is wide enough.

We’re also launching multi-person chat, which is one of our most requested features. Now when your friends can’t figure out what movie to see, you can just add them to a chat and decide together. To include more friends in your conversation, simply select Add Friends to Chat.

Most people are thinking about what their future Facebook chats will look like. For me and others who walk among the security crowd, the first thoughts are more like this:

How long before someone hacks into this?

Is this yet another social networking tool to avoid at all costs?

I never really shared the phobia some have toward all social networking. In fact, judging by all the security folks on Twitter and Facebook today, I would say most people are getting over it.

It’s not that we think this stuff has gotten more secure. It’s just that we’ve become willing to take the risk. You can’t hide from every new piece of technology, even if it’s destined to become SkyNet someday. We figure it’s best to use it before it uses (or destroys) us.

And so in I go, exploring this new toy.

Not that it’s really new. My first impression is that this looks a lot like Google Talk.

The thing is, when Facebook does it, they make it so easy that my long-deceased grandparents could use it. I can upload slide shows on Facebook in minutes, and I’ve never been good at that sort of thing.

So, expect Facebook’s new toy to take off. Expect the bad guys to do bad things with it.

Once you get over that last point, you’ll be feeling technologically sophisticated in no time.

Have fun!

–Bill Brenner

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