How Social Networks are Used in Cybercrime

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Social networking's tremendous growth has created a breeding ground for hackers to engage in cybercrime. In this lesson, you'll learn more about how cybercriminals use social networking for illegal purposes.

Social Crime Time

In 2013, the stock market lost more than $130 billion in value thanks to one event. No, it wasn't a global crisis. A war hadn't broken out. And, there were no changes to fiscal or monetary policies. Instead, the dip was attributed to a single source: social media. Hackers gained control of the Twitter account of the Associated Press and posted an erroneous ''news story'' that a bomb had been detonated in the White House in Washington, D.C. The fake story caused the Dow to drop 150 points, roughly equivalent to $136 billion, though it eventually rebounded.

This is one example of how social networks are used for mischievous purposes, and there are plenty of others. Scammers used actor Robin Williams' death to encourage people to share a fake video that ultimately caused a fake file to be downloaded to users' devices. Criminals on fake Instagram accounts posted photos of supposed lottery winners, offering to share their bounty with anyone who followed their account. Once the account grew to a sizable following, the account owners sold the account and all of its followers to someone else. On Twitter, cybercriminals often post malicious URLs that look legitimate in hopes of getting users to click - and subsequently infect their devices.

The rise of social networking has created an atmosphere for increased cybercrime.
social, networks, cybercrime, cyber, crime, hackers

The growing use of social media, now estimated to be more than three billion users worldwide, provides fertile ground for hackers looking to commit cybercrime. Cybercrime is an easy way to target people because it requires only a computer, an internet connection, and criminal intent. The evidence of how simple it is to commit cybercrimes is in the number of victims estimated to have been targeted in 2017: nearly one billion people!

Common Cybercrimes in Social Networking

Let's take a look at some of the most common types of cybercrimes impacting social media networks. The prevalence of social media usage and the ability to interact anonymously are two of the biggest reasons why cybercrimes on social networking sites have gone wild. Here are a few examples of the most popular types of attacks perpetrated on social media.


When you click on links you don't recognize, or open attachments sent by people on your friend list, you are opening yourself up to the potential of a malware infection. Malware is malicious software designed to cripple or take over your computer system. In essence, it installs a virus onto your machine. Always verify that the source of the file is legitimate before clicking on or downloading any files.


Reconnaissance isn't just for police officers, cybercriminals conduct their own type of reconnaissance or surveillance to look for people on social media to prey on. This information is then turned into fake social media profiles, so they can impersonate someone, perhaps a boss or a friend, to get you to reveal sensitive information they can use to take advantage of a particular situation.

Social Engineering

Social engineering is another way cybercriminals steal people's identities and attempt to use false social media accounts for personal or financial gain. Often, this works by hackers gathering information about a particular person and then using that information to construct phishing emails or other forms of communications to gain access to individuals' personal or financial details.

False Flags

Have you ever gotten an email that seemed a little off? Some hackers impersonate social media sites and send site users emails as a way of gaining access to a user's profile. These fake emails often appear in the form of a ''reset your password'' reminder.

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