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After undermining the usefulness of email, turning newsgroups into a forum for promoting sex sites and filling blog comment sections with adverts for penis pill adverts and get rich quick schemes, spammers have set their sights on a new target - Twitter.

Richard Stiennon of ThreatChaos.com has published an analysis explaining how spammers are lining up to exploit the popular micro-blogging service as a medium for junk mail messages.

An application called TweetTornado takes advantage of the fact most Twitter users permit followers to join their feeds without permission. The application creates a large number of bogus Twitter IDs, each following a large number of users, before posting Tweets with links from a text file.

Abuse of Twitter using the tactic is far from common, at least for now. Twitter users can screen followers using the "protect your updates" option in the settings on their Twitter account.

"For now this is an annoyance," Stiennon writes. "Remember when email was something people would say 'what’s the big deal? Just hit the delete button?' At this point Twammers effect only a small percentage of Twitter users. If you see someone posting links to annoying commercials it is easy to 'block' the user."

Since Twitter, unlike email, is a closed system, there's more scope to stamp down on rogue accounts. Stiennon adds: "The first thing that Twitter can and should do is limit Twitter ID creation by requiring a valid email account with verification. Gmail accounts of the realname+anything@gmail.com should not be allowed."

A write-up of the nascent threat - containing screenshots of the TweetTornado application and more detail on how it works - can be found here. Users who reckon they have come across a spammer can send reports of abuse to Twitter staff via the @spam account. ®

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