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News

Spammers Exploit Paid-For Twitter hashtags

Sophos : 26 September, 2011  (Technical Article)
Twitter to step up their fight against spam according to Sophos after hashtags hijacked to distribute spam and malware
Spammers Exploit Paid-For Twitter hashtags
As spammers take advantage of the first UK brand-promoted tweets and trends, IT security firm Sophos is advising Twitter that it's time to step up the fight against malware and spam to protect both their users and their paying corporate customers

To increase awareness of the very popular "Glee" TV show, Sky is using the Twitter account @gleeonsky and paying for the hashtag #gleeonsky to be promoted to British Twitter users.

However, spam accounts have been set up specifically for the purpose of distributing messages containing popular hashtags, in this case '#gleeonsky', to encourage curious users to click on malicious links.

Promoting hashtags on Twitter and making it a trending topic can cost companies considerable amounts of money, and Sophos warns that firms will not take kindly to their brand being associated with spams, scams and malware, especially when they paid handsomely for the privilege of special promotion.

On Twitter, spammers don't care if their accounts get reported and shut down by Twitter security, because they can just create further accounts. The process can be entirely automated, meaning that malicious or offensive links can continue to be spread without human effort.

"Even if a hashtag or a tweet is sponsored, Twitter users should be wary about clicking on unknown links, just as they would in their inbox," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos.  "In this instance, most of the spammed Tweets are claiming to link to sites containing illicit celebrity photos, but the spammers can choose to redirect users to any webpage they choose once they've clicked on a link.  It could be a phishing site designed to steal Twitter credentials, it could be a fake pharmacy, it could be an explicit or offensive site, or it could be a website harbouring malware."

"As more and more people fall in love with Twitter as a way of communicating, so cybercriminals are abusing the service to put money in their own pockets," continued Cluley. "No company wants to have its brand tarnished through association - so it's time for an advertising-supported Twitter to grow up and get more serious about stopping spam."
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