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Twitter has tightened up security procedures in order to curtail phishing attacks against users of the micro-blogging service, which have become rampant over recent weeks.

Bogus (normally direct) messages have invited users to log into counterfeit Twitter sites, and hand over login credentials in the process. Compromised accounts have subsequently been harnessed to send spamvertise penis pill sites and the like, much to the embarrassment of victims of the ruse, including cabinet minister Ed Miliband, online bank First Direct and many other less prominent marks.

Twitter is hoping to curtail such attacks by routing direct messages submitted to Twitter via new URL service twt.tl, which will maintain a blacklist of URLs associated with phishing attacks, as explained in a blog posting on Tuesday.

We’re launching a new service to protect users that strikes a major blow against phishing and other deceitful attacks. By routing all links submitted to Twitter through this new service, we can detect, intercept, and prevent the spread of bad links across all of Twitter. Even if a bad link is already sent out in an email notification and somebody clicks on it, we'll be able keep that user safe.

Since these attacks occur primarily on Direct Messages and email notifications about Direct Messages, this is where we have focused our initial efforts. For the most part, you will not notice this feature because it works behind the scenes but you may notice links shortened to twt.tl in Direct Messages and email notifications.

Social networking spam and malware attacks rose 70 per cent last year, according to net security firm Sophos. Facebook and Twitter, in particular, have become prime targets for Web 2.0 spammers. A video by Sophos illustrates the mechanics of recent Twitter phishing attacks.

Such attacks are serious not just because of the nuisance and potential embarrassment they cause on Twitter but because many users reuse their Twitter login credentials on more sensitive webmail and online banking accounts, which are therefore left open to attack if micro-blogging passwords become compromised. ®

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