Facebook turns to Websense for malicious URL detection

The goal is to protect users from clicking on links that take them to phishing and malware sites

Facebook has partnered with security vendor Websense to protect its users from third-party malicious URLs spammed on the social networking website, the companies said on Monday.

Facebook has been plagued by malware distribution campaigns, survey scams and other types of threats for years now and despite the company's best efforts the attacks continue.

The site's blocking mechanisms have improved over time, but spammers are very determined to find ways around them since social media has become one of the primary malware propagation channels.

Most attacks involve users clicking on links that point to malicious web pages outside of Facebook's control, so to counter this, the company passes requests to external resources through its own URL redirector.

This allows it to check links against third party and self-maintained blocklists. Earlier this year, the company announced a partnership with Web of Trust (WOT), a provider of community-powered URL reputation services, in order to better detect spam links on the website.

But with attackers capable of switching malicious URLs very quickly it's hard to keep up using only a blacklist-based approach. That's why Facebook chose Websense, which brings to the table a cloud-based scanning engine capable of checking third-party pages in real-time before allowing users to visit them.

"Every day, Websense Security Labs works to discover, investigate, and report on advanced internet threats that are designed to circumvent antivirus products. By providing real-time protection from malware, spyware, inappropriate content, data leaks, and spam, we make it safe for people and businesses to use the web," said Websense's Chief Technology Officer Dan Hubbard in a statement.

When the Websense ThreatSeeker platform detects malicious content, users get notified that proceeding to the destination is potentially unsafe. Of course, to work around any false positive incidents that might occur, the option to ignore the alerts will also be available.

"Facebook cares deeply about protecting users from potentially malicious content on the internet. We are excited about our partnership with Websense to provide industry leading tools to help our users protect themselves," commented Dan Rubinstein, Facebook's product manager for site integrity, in a statement.

The partnership has yet to prove its effectiveness on the world's largest social networking website, but giving the current attack rate any form of additional protection is most probably a good thing. Bit.ly is also using Websense technology to block malicious URLs, but just like Facebook, it does it in conjunction with solutions from multiple providers.

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