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Promoted tweet scheme ripe for abuse

Fresh security threats in 140 chars or less

Miscreants are highly likely to take advantage of Twitter's move towards making money through ad-supported micro-blogging updates, security watchers warn.

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone announced on Tuesday that the micro-blogging service would begin selling advertising to select firms through a newly-established Promoted Tweet program. The idea finally answers the question of how Twitter intends to make money while posing fresh security challenges.

The trial phase of the program will involve blue chip firms such as Best Buy, Bravo, Red Bull, Sony Pictures, Starbucks and Virgin America. As the scheme takes hold, however, and expands towards to becoming a sort of AdWords for micro-blogging then ne'er-do-wells will almost inevitably start taking an interest, anti-spyware firm Sunbelt Software warns.

"We’re wondering how long it will be before the online pharmacies, botnet operators and rogue security product pushers decide to mimic Twitter’s ads for their own nefarious purposes," Sunbelt analyst Tom Kelchner writes. "Like the search engine optimization techniques that have taken advantage of the big search services, there will be attempts to use the promoted tweets. And there will be countermeasures by Twitter and the rest of us in the anti-malcode world."

Fiendish types may abuse the new commercial service by disguising links to booby-trapped sites as sponsored Tweets, Kelchner adds.

David Harley, director of malware intelligence at security firm Eset, noted that Twitter is already used as a precursor to search engine manipulation. "Misuse or mimicking of ads may even be inevitable," Harley told The Register.

Luis Corrons, technical director of PandaLabs, explained that in its first phase the scheme will work in a similar way to “sponsored links” in Google, so when users search for something in Twitter they will see the promoted tweets. Over time this is likely to be expanded so that promoted tweets will go to anyone in certain country, or using a particular language, or belonging to a group, or even to everybody.

Corrons said "Imagine if a cybercriminal had a chance to send a malicious tweet to each and every Twitter user? I’m sure that Twitter will take security measures to avoid these kind of abuses, but we all know that 100 per cent security does not exist," he added.

The Spanish security expert reckons it's also possible that cybercriminals might pay to deliver links to dodgy sites. "Cybercriminals will use any platform that can be worth to spread their malware creations," Corrons told The Reg. "If they are using regular tweets to send spam and distribute malware, why wouldn’t they use these ad tweets?

"Having to pay it’s not a problem, as they can use our previously stolen credit cards. We have already seen similar behaviour on other platforms, such as Google’s DoubleClick," he added. ®

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