Chancellor's Friday Letters

Chancellor White’s Friday Letter of October 26, 2012

Chancellor White’s Friday Letter of October 26, 2012

October 26, 2012

Dear Friends,

Not so long ago, a headline caught my eye that blew my mind, “Facebook users hit the one billion mark.” And then I remembered another recent headline, “App protects Facebook users from hackers.”

The second headline appeared on the UCR website, describing work performed right here on campus . . . and I felt incredibly proud of the impact that our faculty and research groups can have on the public’s best interest.

The “app” was designed and implemented by two UCR graduate students in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Md. Sazzadur Rahman and Ting-Kai Huang, under the supervision of professors Harsha Madhyastha and Michalis Faloutsos. One more time our stellar researchers are ahead of the curve and are advancing our mission of service – potentially this time to one billion people.

The research team set about tackling the new problem of social malware. Malware hangs around Facebook in the form of fake posts that, for example, promise to show you who is viewing your profile (a service Facebook does not offer) or to send you free products.

Click on the tempting come-on and you’re caught like a fly on a frog’s tongue.

Your information is downloaded instantly in some faraway place where criminals are wreaking havoc on an international basis.

Moreover, social malware dupes users into spreading the malware to their friends, thus creating a viral propagation across the social networks. Just as funny YouTube videos can go viral on Facebook, so can a well-crafted scam.

With users increasingly spending more and more of their time on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks, it is no wonder that cybercrime is expanding to these fertile new grounds on the Web.

During a recent four-month experiment, the UCR researchers found that the application they created to detect spam and malware posts on Facebook was not only highly accurate, but also fast and efficient. They named the app MyPageKeeper, and it works by continuously scanning the walls and news feeds of subscribers, identifying fake and seductive posts and alerting the users.

Heck, they even coined a new word: “socware” – pronounced “sock-where” – to describe “social malware,” which is the marriage of criminal and parasitic behavior on online social networks.

And here’s an even greater source of pride: their application, MyPageKeeper, is free!

During their four-month experiment, they found that almost half of the 12,000 MyPageKeeper users– who had posted 40 million times during that time frame – had been exposed to at least one socware post. And this free software flagged 97 percent of the suspicious Facebook activity. In fact, it missed only 0.005 percent of the time and it gave a thumbs up or a thumbs down in an average of .0046 seconds – who can even conceive of such minute numbers?

Assistant Professor Madhyastha sees no end to the need for novel anti-malware solutions, an integral part of his research agenda since, he says, cyber security is “an arms race with hackers.” Indeed, the innovative research conducted by faculty and students at UCR, a public research university, is clearly a public good.



Tim White

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Keep up with the latest at UCR Today

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