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LinkedIn’s Security Woes Pour Salt On Social Media’s Exposed Wounds

LinkedIn is in the middle of a pretty bad run. Their latest problems are around the phishing attacks on LinkedIn users that can be attributed to hacked passwords being handed out like candy on a Russian hacker site.

This is the latest in a series of security issues that has plagued the social network choice of the professional set. The New York Times Bits blog reports

The phishing attack marks the third headache for the professional social network in 24 hours. On Tuesday, security researchers said that a LinkedIn mobile app had been leaking sensitive calendar information to LinkedIn’s Web servers without their knowledge. On Wednesday, the breach exposed vulnerabilities in LinkedIn’s data security practices, specifically that the social network did not isolate users’ credentials on separate, secure machines and failed to “salt” passwords by appending random characters to them before encoding them.

By LinkedIn not taking the extra step of salting passwords that would have made this kind of breach much less likely it has created a PR maelstrom that can leave the kind of black eye that has a hard time healing. Doctors tell you us to lay off the salt but in the tech world it’s apparently a low or no salt ‘diet’ that might get you into trouble.

If you are not convinced that security will either make or break the social media movement then you are just not paying attention. In fact, what we may be witnessing are similar conditions that created the environment where Google jumped in and thrived oh so many years ago.

You may now be asking how I drew that dotted line connection between Google’s dominance and social media today and that’s fair. Here’s how I see it. Remember the days of early search? AltaVista, Lycos, LookSmart, Yahoo and many more were all vying for the top search dog position. Then the bubble burst and people started to see the shortcomings of the existing models. Google used this time to create the better mousetrap based on the shortcomings of the competition and the rest, as they say, is history.

Now look at the social media landscape. Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are the big three with many other ‘hangers on’ including Google+, Path etc. Well, Facebook can’t get out of its own way and is rumbling, fumbling and stumbling its way to what some consider a fate worse than MySpace. On that note, MySpace and Friendster have either faded away or are working hard to reinvent themselves. Everyone is wondering whether Twitter can truly make any money and now LinkedIn essentially craps-the-bed with its lack of security.

All of these players are big and they are all incredibly vulnerable. Why? Mostly because they are first generation social media giants. Now that the holes in the social media dyke are showing up in greater numbers than there are fingers to fill them you have to wonder are we not seeing the same kind of evolutionary cycle that we did in the search world not so long ago?

I am not saying that social as we know it is ready to die. It is unlikely that the death it suffers will be as sudden as the previous search competitors experienced or if will it even be complete. But is it that hard to imagine someone coming along now, taking all of the learnings on security and all the other elements of social and building a second generation model that knocks out some of these ills? I don’t think so. It’s happened before so why not again?

With the current social media giants looking to put patches on the weak spots that have been exposed just by the passing of time and the hubris of people like Mark Zuckerberg, it is becoming more obvious that they are very exposed. They are too big to reinvent themselves thus they have become the very thing they fought against. Increased size means you have more weight to throw around and you can talk a big game but it doesn’t guarantee a win. Just ask the Miami Heat about that philosophy and where it gets you.

So LinkedIn’s salty problems are likely just symptomatic of larger ills in the social space. Could there be someone waiting in the wings to do it better? Is there someone already on that road?

Let’s get your opinions here and see what is on your mind.