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Fake Vint Cerf tweets link spam on Twitter

'I get so much electronic chatter as it is', Cerf tells El Reg

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A Twitter account in the name of internet luminary Vint Cerf has been suspended after miscreants abused it to send link spam.

The @cerf account Cerf himself established with the micro blogging service last month was used to push auction search sites, according to a ZDNet security blog story.

Really? Actually no - it's a fake profile, as Cerf himself confirms.

Circumstantial evidence suggested that the account was set up by unidentified impersonators. A search on Twitter reveals that few plausible looking updates were sent last month before the account began pumping out link spam. A few days of this resulted in the automatic suspension of the account.

A stock statement by Twitter explains: "Sorry, the account you were headed to has been suspended due to strange activity. Mosey along now, nothing to see here."

We've emailed Cerf directly and he confirmed the profile was the work of imposters.

"I did not register the account so apparently someone else did; this was called to my attention and apparently to Twitter's by a colleague here at Google and subsequently the account was suspended and then, it seems, removed," Cerf told El Reg, adding that he's too busy to bother with Twitter.

"I get so much electronic chatter as it is, I didn't think I needed additional Twitter inputs so I did not register. The fact that it is easy to impersonate anyone you wish in email, Twitter and other accounts is obvious and I suppose we might give some thought as to how one could establish bona fides that a stranger could use to determine the validity of such accounts," he writes.

Impersonators on Twitter are nothing new. A buzz went around the micro-blogging community when @tonybenn joined last month but it quickly emerged that the updates pushed through the profile were from a supporter and not the respected left-wing former Labour cabinet minister.

Genuine celebrities on Twitter include tech enthusiast Stephen Fry (@stephenfry); Robert Llewellyn (@bobbyllew), who played Kryten on Red Dwarf, and Apprentice winner Michelle Dewberry (@MichelleDewbs). Staffers of President elect Barack Obama maintained an account (@BarackObama) during his successful White House run but that profile has fallen silent since his election.

We know these profiles are genuine because of links from their established webpages or similar evidence. Twitter itself performs little or no checks beyond asking for an email address, before allowing anyone to post updates under what might very-well be an assumed pseudo-identity.

The one thing that rang true in this curious tale Cerf's impersonation (at least prior to his email) was the idea that the tech visionary is interested in Twitter as a technology.

Cerf, whose role as one of the founding fathers of internet technology will be familiar to Reg readers, is currently chief internet evangelist at Google, selected Twitter co-founder Biz Stone as one of the net visionaries to quiz on the future of the interweb when he guest-edited a Guardian column in December 2007. ®

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