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A fairly new concept in Malware, especially in the case of botnets, is the emergence of social botnets. These botnets are comprised of accounts (either a newly created account or an existing hijacked account) on social networking sites. Based on what I have researched, social botnets are currently active in social networking sites such as Facebook and Instagram.

Up until now the main recorded activities for social botnets has been sending spam and mass advertising a specific product. But is this all they are capable of? Based on the fact that social bots take control of an account (or create new ones) rather than taking control of an actual computer system, what are the potential malicious activities of these botnets? Can they be potentially harmful to our systems or are they limited to advertising and social engineering? If so, how effective and dangerous can they be once they have a large functioning network of bots? Can they effectively conduct social engineering on a large scale to shift public opinion?

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They can be used for large-scale spamming of links that may lead to advertising (best case scenario), phishing (most likely scenario) or worse : malware, and maybe use social engineering to convince the account's "friends" (the friends of the real owner of the account) to click on them or even download and install the malware.

That malware can then be used to build a real botnet of computers.

For the public opinion, I don't see what profit the authors of the "botnet" can get out of it. Spam can generate lots of advertising revenue, but just posting messages without any links and maybe getting a hashtag in the top tweets (in case of Twitter) won't give them much revenue (no links = no ads = no revenue).

Also, sending public messages isn't a good idea in my opinion since the account owner will quickly notice it, where as spamming the user's friends/followers via direct messages only can go undetected for a very long time depending on the user's level of inexperience (or stupidity as I prefer to call it).

It's very easy to spam a bunch of predefined messages on lots of accounts at the same time, that doesn't require any human intervention, but it's much harder to have actual conversations between the compromised accounts that will make sense and not be suspicious, and that'll require human intervention, and probably a lot of humans if we're talking about even a small botnet of "only" 1000 accounts (1k won't make a difference on a social network by the way, you'll need much more than that if you want to do real "damage").

And as mentioned above, the original owners of the accounts will quickly notice these public messages posted on their behalf and that'll thwart the entire operation, it'll only result in a big panic about the social network being hacked (even though only their accounts were compromised, but a person stupid enough to click on these links doesn't even know the difference).

By the way, I get a lot of these spams by direct messages on Twitter, they are links to sites that promise to give you followers and ask you to connect your account (with full read/write access) - your account will then be used to spam the same link again and again.

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  • I did, But I already voted up so I can't do it again. However, part of my question was, how effective can social engineering be on a large scale? I would think t would be difficult and therefore limit the capabilities of social botnets, but isn't there new tactics/strategies to achieve this? Can social bots be made to look realistic? Jun 20, 2014 at 9:50
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From my understanding social activity is one of the many functionalities of recent malwares. They use social media not only to advertise, but to infect other users as well by posting malicious redirection links on infected user's profile. The reason why malware authors picked up this route is that humans generally tend to trus whatever is posted by someone they know, and this is the biggest weakness of a social network that the botnets/malwares are trying to exploit.

Hence these botnets/malwares are very much capable of performing other activities as well like building a zombie network, launching DDOS, spamming, stealing info etc.

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