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Twitter Trends exploited to promote scareware

Malign micro-blogging madness

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Hackers are manipulating a hot topics feature of Twitter to promote malware-infected websites. The gaming of the Twitter Trends feature recalls the manipulation of Google search results using black-hat search engine optimisation techniques.

In the case of the Twitter attack, cyber-criminals created hundreds of accounts and posted multiple messages under the topic "PhishTube Broadcast", a reference to the US rock band Phish, but containing links to a spoof pornographic Web page. The topic appeared in the Trending Topic list, achieving greater visibility and therefore more user traffic to comments made under that category.

Users intrigued enough to visit the supposed websites promoted through the Twitter social-engineering ruse risk exposure to the PrivacyCenter fake antivirus (scareware) package. The software runs a spoof scan of system before falsely informing users that their computers are infected with malware, whether they are or not, in order to induce frightened users into buying software of little or not utility.

Attacks of this nature promoting a scareware package called System Security surfaced last week. The latest run of attacks demonstrates a continuation of the same methods, and its adaptation to make the ruse seem more plausible and likely to attract notice.

"We have recently been warning of an increase in BlackHat SEO attacks (malicious techniques to improve search engine rankings), particularly those aimed at selling fake antivirus products," said Luis Corrons, Technical Director of PandaLabs. "In this case, instead of a search engine, the Twitter ranking mechanism is the target of the attack, forcing topics to appear in the list of the most popular. Anyone interested in this topic will most likely end up on one of the thousands of malicious comments posted, although we have also seen a few legitimate comments".

A write-up of the attacks - complete with screen-shots - by Panda Security can be found here.

The targeting of Twitter is similar to recent attacks on other Web 2.0 websites, such as Digg.com and YouTube. ®

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