Social media is known for offering friends a chance to catch up on old times, share updates, and join interesting groups related to hobbies or other things. However, social media is also a powerful political tool and one that has sparked revolts as well as uprisings.
Governments around the world are starting to realize its power and its benefits for large-scale communication, citizen journalism and other uses.
Iran reportedly has been reportedly using social media for its own gains - to find out what top U.S. officials are doing and how they live their lives by befriending them. New information reveals Iran has been running such a program since 2011 and dubbed it "Newscaster."
A new report released by the cyber threat intelligence company iSight Partners states it may also be using other social networks for similar reasons.
"iSIGHT Partners believes Iranian threat actors are using more than a dozen fake personas on social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube, Blogger) in a coordinated, long-term cyber espionage campaign," the company says. "At least 2,000 people/targets are, or have been, caught in the snare and are connected to the false personas."
The main targets seemed to have been senior U.S. military and diplomatic personnel, congressional personnel, Washington D.C. journalists, think tanks, defense contractors, and Israeli supporters. Reportedly, there were even targets in the U.K., Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
"The fake personas claim to work in journalism, government, and defense contracting," iSight says. "These accounts are elaborate and have created credibility using, among other tactics, a fictitious journalism website, newsonair.org, that plagiarizes news content from other legitimate media outlets."
What made this effort even more devious was that there was a malware twist. The malware, although not sophisticated, included a way to extract information or data from profiles and users.