Ben-Gurion University researchers develop algorithm to locate fake users on many social networks

April 17, 2018

NEW YORK...April 17, 2018 -- Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (Beer-Sheva, Israel) and University of Washington (Seattle) researchers have developed a new generic method to detect fake accounts on most types of social networks, including Facebook and Twitter.

According to a new study in Social Network Analysis and Mining, the new method is based on the assumption that fake accounts tend to establish improbable links to other users in the networks.

"With recent disturbing news about failures to safeguard user privacy, and targeted use of social media by Russia to influence elections, rooting out fake users has never been of greater importance," explains Dima Kagan, lead researcher and a researcher in the BGU Department of Software and Information Systems Engineering. "We tested our algorithm on simulated and real-world data sets on 10 different social networks and it performed well on both."

The algorithm consists of two main iterations based on machine-learning algorithms. The first constructs a link prediction classifier that can estimate, with high accuracy, the probability of a link existing between two users. The second iteration generates a new set of meta-features based on the features created by the link prediction classifier. Lastly, the researchers used these meta-features and constructed a generic classifier that can detect fake profiles in a variety of online social networks.

"Overall, the results demonstrated that in a real-life friendship scenario we can detect people who have the strongest friendship ties as well as malicious users, even on Twitter," the researchers say. "Our method outperforms other anomaly detection methods and we believe that it has considerable potential for a wide range of applications particularly in the cyber-security arena."

The Ben-Gurion University researchers previously developed the Social Privacy Protector (SPP) to help users evaluate their friends list in seconds to identify which have few or no mutual links and might be "fake" profiles.
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Other researchers who contributed are Dr. Michael Fire of the University of Washington (former Ben-Gurion U. doctoral student) and Prof. Yuval Elovici, director of the Telekom Innovation Labs@BGU, director of Cyber@BGU and a member of the BGU Department of Software and Information Systems Engineering.

The Washington Research Foundation Fund for Innovation in Data-Intensive Discovery and the Moore/Sloan Data Science Environment Project at the University of Washington supported this study.

Click here to watch a video about the team's current and recent social media research.

About American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (AABGU) plays a vital role in sustaining David Ben-Gurion's vision: creating a world-class institution of education and research in the Israeli desert, nurturing the Negev community and sharing the University's expertise locally and around the globe. As Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) looks ahead to turning 50 in 2020, AABGU imagines a future that goes beyond the walls of academia. It is a future where BGU invents a new world and inspires a vision for a stronger Israel and its next generation of leaders. Together with supporters, AABGU will help the University foster excellence in teaching, research and outreach to the communities of the Negev for the next 50 years and beyond. Visit vision.aabgu.org to learn more.

AABGU, which is headquartered in Manhattan, has nine regional offices throughout the United States. For more information, visit http://www.aabgu.org.

American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

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