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2011 cyberattack targets: iPhone, Facebook, Foursquare

John D. Sutter
Apple products, including the iPhone, will be among the hot targets of cyberattacks in 2011, McAfee says.
Apple products, including the iPhone, will be among the hot targets of cyberattacks in 2011, McAfee says.
  • McAfee releases its predictions for cyberthreats in 2011
  • Among the targets: smartphones, social networks and URL shorteners
  • Report: E-mail spam is becoming less significant as people use new tools to communicate

(CNN) -- Spamming e-mail is so last year.

Malicious coders and all-out cybercrooks will target newer and hipper forms of digital communication in 2011, according to a report released Wednesday by McAfee, the computer security company.

Noting a "significant decrease" in the total volume of spam messages sent to e-mail, the company's annual "Threat Predictions" report says attacks on instant messaging services, Facebook, Foursquare, URL shorteners, smartphones like the iPhone and even long-protected Apple operating systems will increase in the coming year.

The changes are driven by how people use tech, the report says. As e-mail starts to die, so do e-mail-targeted scams.

"This year ended with some of the lowest global e-mail spam levels in years, as more and more users transition from 'slower' legacy communications such as e-mail in favor of more immediate methods such as instant messaging and Twitter," the report says. "This shift will completely alter the threat landscape in 2011."

McAfee's report is based on data collected in 2010 and is simply a list of "fearless predictions" for what's to come in the realm of cyberattacks. It's also worth noting that the company sells anti-virus software, so it has an incentive to make the digital world sound frightening.

With those caveats in mind, here's a quick look at some of the types of threats it highlights:

Location services

Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places -- which let mobile phone users alert their friends to their current whereabouts -- pose an increasing security threat, the report says. Location-tagged Twitter posts are also a worry.

"Use Bing's mapping functionality, for example, and plot all the GPS-enabled tweets in an area. It is easy to correlate these by topic or area of interest. In just a few clicks cyber criminals can see in real time who is tweeting and where, what they are saying, what their interests are, and the operating systems and applications they are using," McAfee says. "It then becomes child's play to craft a targeted attack based upon what the bad guys have just learned from these services."

Social media

This is kind of a no-brainer. If criminals know lots of stuff about you from social media posts and profiles, they can use that information to try to trick you into trusting potential scammers. Security geeks call this "spear phishing."

"Social media connections will eventually replace e-mail as the primary vector for distributing malicious code and links," the report says.

URL shorteners

These sites -- like, and -- take long internet addresses and shorten them so that they are easier to send via e-mail, text or Twitter.

But with convenience comes risk, the report says.

"The trouble -- and abuse -- follows because users do not know where these shortened links actually lead until they click them. This is a huge opportunity for abuse," McAfee says.


There haven't been many cases of cyberattacks on smartphones.

But McAfee says that's about to change.

"McAfee Labs predicts that 2011 will be a turning point for threats to mobile devices," the report says, adding: "The widespread adoption of mobile devices into business environments combined with these and other attacks is likely to bring about the explosion we've long anticipated."

Apple operating systems

If you know an Apple-head, you've probably heard him or her say something to this effect: "My Mac NEVER gets bugs or viruses."

Ahem. That may change soon, says McAfee.

"The popularity of iPads and iPhones in business environments and the easy portability of malicious code between them could put many users and businesses at risk next year and beyond," the report says."

"The lack of user understanding regarding exposure on these platforms and the lack of deployed security solutions make a fertile landscape for cyber criminals. McAfee Labs expects to see botnets and Trojans (types of cyber attacks and viruses) move from a rare encounter to a more common occurrence on Apple platforms in 2011."


"Hacktivists" are internet activists who shut down websites and cause other digital trouble to make a political point. The most recent high-profile example of this was the WikiLeaks saga, when hacktivists shut down credit-card websites as a show of support for that document-leaking website.

Hacktivism is at least a decade old. But it will continue to be prevalent in 2011, McAfee says, partly because of the attention WikiLeaks has drawn to the activity.


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