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When social networking gets attacked
By Riva Richmond and Jeremy Kirk
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 29 - 05 - 2009

Facebook is no longer alone in its troubles. Twitter is also becoming a target of phishers. The last few days have seen a slew of Twitter phishing attacks, possibly orchestrated in a chess-like multi-move plan that resulted in three sets of victims and, very likely, some seedy profits.
The scheme appears to have begun Thursday with the creation of bogus Twitter accounts, which the scammers used to “follow” other users, says Rik Ferguson, a senior security adviser at the security-software maker Trend Micro. If these users checked out the profiles of their new followers and clicked on the Web addresses there, they were redirected to a fake Twitter site where they were prompted to hand over their passwords. In a smooth move, the site's address was tvviter.com (notice the double “v” and single “t”), likely an effort to reassure anyone who glanced at the address bar.
To increase the odds of this all happening, the bogus users were usually “hot women,” Mr. Ferguson says. “It's always preying on blokes being stupid, which is about right.”
From there, the marks were passed back to the real Twitter and provided some additional new, hot followers. If they visited those followers' profiles and clicked on the Web links there, they were off to see some fairly X-rated “dating” sites. Mr. Ferguson suspects the scammers were earning money from the dating sites for each click from these potential customers.
The phishers also launched another phishing effort. From the accounts they compromised, they tweeted messages cheerfully telling followers “there is this funny blog going around” and offering a shortened URL that led, once again, to a fake Twitter page encouraging people to type in their passwords. Within a few hours, thankfully, Twitter cleaned up all these messages about the funny blog and reset those peoples' passwords.
But there was still the matter of people who went to read the “funny blog” and gave away their passwords. Twitter didn't know who this third group of victims were. Well, that mystery may have been solved on Sunday, when hacked accounts were used to tweet large amounts of spam pushing $5 acai berry diet supplements. (Those were soon followed by apologetic tweets from the owners of said accounts.)
Worm-like Phishing Attack
Twitter users have been tricked into divulging their login and password details to a Web site that then spammed their contacts.
The culprit is a Web site called TwitterCut. Some Twitter users began getting a message that appeared to be from one of their friends and included a link to the TwitterCut Web site. The message implied they could gain more Twitter contacts by following the link.
At one time TwitterCut looked quite similar to the real Twitter login page, said Mikko Hypponen, chief research offer for the security vendor F-Secure. If a person entered their login details, TwitterCut would then send the same message via Twitter to all of the victim's contacts, a kind of phishing attack with worm-like characteristics. No malicious software is installed on a user's machine, Hypponen said.
Although TwitterCut probably holds the login details for many accounts, it doesn't appear those accounts have been used to spam out links to more dangerous Web sites.
TwitterCut's Web site has been reported to services that blacklist potentially harmful Web sites, although it is still active. In a warning message now on TwitterCut, the site's operators said they didn't mean to phish people.
Instead, they say they were trying to create a so-called Twitter Train, which are sites that purport to quickly give Twitter users lots of followers. They said they bought the login script on their site for US$50.
“We were not phishing Twitter accounts whatsoever,” the message said. “We're shutting down this site.”
Hypponen said Twitter should be on the lookout for signs of spam, such as when an identical message appears hundreds and hundreds of times across users' profiles that isn't a “retweet,” or the intentional reposting of other content.
Twitter could also screen URLs (Uniform Resource Locators) to make sure they're not already blacklisted for security issues, Hypponen said.
Many Web browsers as well as search engines will either warn about or block suspicious Web sites.
Most URLs posted in Twitter have been shortened using services such as TinyURL in order to fit in the 140-character message length that Twitter imposes, obscuring the real destination and making users dependent on the trustworthiness of their friends when clicking links. The service was hit by other worms earlier in the year.
Twitter acknowledged the phishing problem late Tuesday night. “We are currently pushing a password reset on accounts we believe may have been caught in a phishing scam,” the company said. “Please exercise your best judgment when thinking about releasing your username and password to third parties.”


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