Despite ongoing efforts to address the problem, attacks based on exploiting Twitter's "trending topics" show no sign of abating, according to researchers at Panda Security.
The ploy involves finessing topics that are popular on any given day. The attackers post multiple messages, known as tweets, ostensibly discussing or expanding on a topic. The tweets typically have a brief phrase followed by a link, which leads to a fake anti-virus website or a site designed to look like a movie trailer that prompts users to download a codec disguising malicious code.
“The attacks have been ongoing since early June,” Sean-Paul Correll, threat researcher and security evangelist at Panda Security, told SCMagazineUS.com on Monday. “They have not stopped and are still going right now. In one 15-minute period, I saw 1,500 tweets redirecting to a site pushing malicious files.”
Some of the current topics include the iPhone, Tim Burton's forthcoming movie Alice in Wonderland, and the Iran election.
Recently, the attackers used a free hosting provider. They created accounts with the provider, then created several Twitter accounts and automated the process of sending the tweets, Correll said.
He added that he had contacted the freeware site and was told it was working on eliminating the malicious accounts. He had mixed feelings about the Twitter response, however.
“I'm kind of disappointed in Twitter,” Correll said. “As far as making the community aware of this problem, there has been no outreach. Twitter says that it keeps the community informed about problems, but there has been no mention of this in their blog.”
Efforts to reach Twitter were not successful on Monday.
“The Twitter staff is doing a good job of eliminating the malicious accounts,” Correll said. “But the attackers just come back with 70 or 80 new accounts in response, all tweeting about whatever the hot trending topics are.”
His advice on dealing with the problem: Keep anti-virus programs up to date, be careful when clicking Twitter trending topics and avoid clicking on tweets from untrusted sources.