UBC study says 1-in-5 Facebook users hack accounts of family, friends

College students find themselves using smart phone apps to make money while in school. (Elisabetta Bianchini/Humber Et Cetera)

Elisabetta Bianchini

A new study from the University of British Columbia shows that one in five respondents have gained access to the Facebook accounts of friends, family members or partners.

The study, titled Characterizing Social Insider Attacks on Facebook, surveyed 1,308 respondents in the United States and evaluated the frequency of social insider attacks, and the motivations for executing them.

Attacks by individuals close to the victim were executed by 24 per cent of respondents, according to the findings, while 21 per cent indicated that they have been on the receiving end of this kind of Facebook attack.

Wali Ahmed Usmani, a co-author of the paper, expected a large number of people to engage in these attacks but anticipated the proportion to be closer to 10 than 24 per cent.

He says the resulting effects of these attacks on victims were dependent on the motivation.

“Mostly we found that consequences were negative and they had an emotional impact on the victim,” Usmani said.

Motivations for this activity were found to reside in five categories, in order of prominence: jealousy, curiosity, fun, animosity and utility.

The study also found that the majority of attacks were opportunistic in nature, enabled by the victim’s negligence and activity that separated the victim from their device.

The study found that Facebook accounts were accessed through a variety of methods including personal and shared devices.

Nichole Clark, a second-year Humber law clerk student, said her ex went into her Facebook profile.

“He was insecure, he wanted to know what I was doing. He sat and watched me converse with a guy.”

When the motivation was animosity, researchers found that victims were quite distraught.

“They were surprised that people would go so far as to use their Facebook account to get them,” Usmani said.

Attacks motivated by fun had two different results. The victim was either just as amused as the perpetrator or the victim perceived the attack negatively because they were embarrassed, Usmani said.

Carolyn Burke, a landscape technician student at Humber College, says she and her boyfriend go into each other’s Facebook accounts and write silly status updates on a regular basis.

“We have a rule where we can’t actually go into each other’s Facebook’s but if it’s open then we can do it,” Burke said.

The survey was conducted online using the Amazon Mechanical Turk platform. It took place in February and March 2016 and was executed in collaboration with researchers from the University of Lisbon.

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