LOS ANGELES - MySpace bills itself as a "place for friends," but more and more it's become something sinister.
Increasingly, it is also a place for unfriendly attacks from digital miscreants on the prowl, luring users to sexually explicit Web sites, clogging mailboxes with spam messages and playing on the trust users have when speaking to "friends" to obtain passwords that could lead to identity theft.
Managing the risks that come with rapid growth is an enormous challenge for MySpace, now part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. media conglomerate, which also owns Fox and the New York Post.
The bad guys are taking advantage of the same MySpace communication tools used to add friends or chat to send spam, and in some cases to send porn and offers to meet teens and minors.
One recent scam works this way: A spammer posts a number of phony profiles featuring pictures of cute women, often promising nude photos."The ongoing interaction lowers your reservations and security barriers," said Marc Gaffan, an expert in online fraud and security at RSA, the security division of EMC Corp.
A "friend request" with the woman's photo is sent to hundreds of users. Once the fake profile loads, a blue screen descends, saying the profile is protected by the "MySpace Adult Content Viewer."
Unsuspecting users who try to download the viewer instead get a worm that installs adware on their computers.
MySpace, which News Corp. bought last year for some $580 million, has recognized the threat and is stepping up security efforts, said Hemanshu Nigam, its chief security officer.
The company is rapidly expanding its team of software engineers, lawyers and other experts who look for suspicious activity and go after the worst offenders. Under Nigam's direction, employees are now posting fake profiles to catch sexual predators.
MySpace also is preparing to launch a more aggressive education campaign, urging users to be careful. When all else fails, the company also files civil suits and is increasing cooperation with law enforcement officials.
"Security is a top priority because it's critical for our community of users and for our business partners," Nigam said. "If advertisers feel uncomfortable being on a site that is seen as not as secure, not as safe, then we lose revenue."