We look at how social networks put a new face on brand-damaging activities, ranging from reputation attacks to imposter sites.

While the popularity of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter soars, businesses have also seen an increase in the potential ways a brand's good name can be damaged.

Most of those threats aren't new, however. Social networks have simply become another attack vector, whether for spreading malware, launching assaults on an individual's or company's reputation, or creating impostor social networking sites that divert traffic away from the brand's legitimate sites.

A good offence

To protect themselves, businesses should defensively register company brand names and trademarks - and variations on those names - on the major social networking sites, just as they do with domain names, to protect against cybersquatters, says Pamela Keeney Lina, an intellectual property lawyer at Alston & Bird LLP, who has written about protecting intellectual property on social networks.

Social media cybersquatting is where domain name cybersquatting was 10 years ago, says James Carnall, manager of the cyberintelligence division at security monitoring firm Cyveillance.

People use variations on brand names to open accounts on social networking sites in hopes that companies will pay them to relinquish control of the accounts.

He points to the online market Tweexchange as a prime example of how trading social network names is a growing business. Unlike domain names, however, social networks have no central authority like ICANN or established processes for reclaiming brand names from cybersquatters.

Some impostors are simply overzealous fans, but according to Lauren Dienes-Middlen, vice president of intellectual property at World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), a bigger concern are the scammers and those who sell pirated videos and poor-quality knockoff merchandise, which robs a company of revenue and cheapens its brands.

Dienes-Middlen recently successfully got MySpace to shut down a fraudulent account in the name of WWE star Triple H.

She said that the sites that sell knock-off merchandise lure users through social networks, spam, abusive search engine marketing and other channels. Last year, WWE shut down 3,200 online auctions of phony WWE products with an estimated street value of $16m to $33m (£9.7m to £20m).

During one Wrestlemania pay-per-view event this spring, WWE was able to use social networking sites to identify a number of unauthorised websites that planned to stream the event live.

It also found 8,600 sites that had made pirated copies of footage of the event available after the fact.

"Counterfeiting operations are highly organised, are very global and are picking up steam because of the economy," says Liz Miller, vice president of the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council.

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NEXT PAGE: The cost of piracy

  1. Facebook and Twitter may be more of a hindrance than a help when it comes to business
  2. The cost of piracy
  3. Self-inflicted threats
  4. Co-ordinated strategy