Social Data Mining: Human-Induced Threats

Posted on by Dr. Mohammed Alani

When I walk around in Abu Dhabi, or in any city that I’ve travelled to recently, there is always someone taking a selfie or a video to share instantly on their social media channels. According to recent statistics by the Federal Competitiveness and Statistics Authority, around 93% of UAE residents are active Facebook users and 75% use YouTube regularly.

Being active on social media can be beneficial on many levels. It can help you advance you career by networking with new people, and it can keep you connected to distant family and friends. However, how much information about your life should you share?

During a presentation at the Chaos Computer Club earlier this year, a famous young security researcher named Karsten Nohl, demonstrated how dangerous it is to publish private information online. Nohl  searched for the hashtag #boardingpass on Instagram and then picked one of the freely available boarding passes that have been shared by users. He then used the information on the boarding pass to login to the traveler’s account on Lufthansa website and had access to all the flight information. In addition to the flight information and the ability to, for example, cancel the flight reservation, he had access to use the saved credit card and could simply steal the identity of the user.

This simple demonstration shows how dangerous it is to share too much private information on social media. People are doing this now as you read this post. Click on the #boardingpass link and look at what people are posting on Instagram. Look through your timelines on Facebook, Twitter and see how much information people are willing to share for no reason.

A few years back, a term was selected to identify this phenomenon - oversharing. We can identify oversharing as the use of social media to share private information about yourself or someone else can have strong implications. When you write “I hate XYZ bank for refusing to reschedule my loan”, you’re basically giving your information to possible phishing scammer and telling everyone that you have a financial crisis, which means they can send you personalized scams about getting rich/getting a loan from a loan shark. When you share a status that is very personal, you’re giving scammers the ability access to your personal life that they can then use to their advantage and exploit you later.

The UAE government has taken active steps launching awareness campaigns and implementing laws to protect its citizens and residents from cybercrime. Laws have also been announced in the country that find any form of misuse of a computer/smart device or an electronic network/system could fetch the violator jail term and/or a pricey fine.

What is the root of the problem?

There is this overwhelming need to overshare and the desire of online users continues to grow. Individuals who are aware of the dangers of oversharing, or have been a victim of cybercrime are in a much safer position than those who are not.

With anything that we use, we all must take accountability of the benefits and dangers of social media and ensure we use all platforms correctly, enabling protective methods to limit the chances of falling prey to such acts.

With millennials using social media the most, parents need to take the lead in spreading awareness to this generation and educate them about the limits of sharing. In addition, schools can host meetings with victims of oversharing and social media scams to tell young people about the unseen effects of falling victims to such scams.

As a starting point, you can find many videos on general cybersafety awareness and how to keep kids secure while online from various experts on the RSA Conference website:

Dr. Mohammed Alani

Provost, Associate Professor, Khawarizmi International College

Blogs posted to the website are intended for educational purposes only and do not replace independent professional judgment. Statements of fact and opinions expressed are those of the blog author individually and, unless expressly stated to the contrary, are not the opinion or position of RSA Conference™, or any other co-sponsors. RSA Conference does not endorse or approve, and assumes no responsibility for, the content, accuracy or completeness of the information presented in this blog.

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