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Kiwis fall foul of Twitter’s dark side

By Donovan Jackson, Mon 6 Oct 2014
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Any time you use a social media service, it provides an additional opportunity for spammers, scammers and malicious masterminds to take advantage. Twitter is one of the new darlings for these miscreants, according to new research, and New Zealanders are somewhat prone to falling for scams on the platform.

That’s according to one of the authors of ‘An In-Depth Analysis of Abuse on Twitter’ and senior software architecture director at Trend Micro, Jon Oliver. He reveals that New Zealand is number eight on the list of countries most affected by particular Twitter attacks. “One is the follower scam, where you pay some money to get thousands of additional followers. The other is the ‘fake designer goods’ scam, where you’re effectively spammed with cheap knockoffs,” he says.

Before delving into more detail, spare a thought for the researchers at Trend and Deakin University who conducted the survey. Demonstrating a weapons-grade tolerance for social media inanity, they gathered a total of over 570 million tweets containing URLs, and identified 33.3 million of those as malicious. That means approximately 5.8% of all tweets with URLs are dodgy.

Oliver says malicious tweets start at a relatively benign level of irritating people in much the same way as email spam does: punting knock-off designer gear which tends to be poor quality and in breach of copyrights. But it gets more sinister, with phishing attempts which seek to harvest usernames and passwords. “There is considerable value attached to these credentials; they are worth more than credit card numbers in the underground economy,” he says.

That’s because social credentials are often used to log in to other services including, even, banking. “If phishers can get into corporate accounts, it is even more useful for their nefarious purposes,” Oliver adds.

Why New Zealanders tend to fall for some scams so readily is a combination of language use – yes, we speak English here – and affluence. “The ‘follower’ scams tend to be targeted at specific languages, so we’ll see this particular scam being prevalent in the USA, the UK and New Zealand, although interestingly, New Zealand more so than Australia,” says Oliver.

Vanity comes at a cost for those Twits who believe the answer to an impressive list of followers is to fork out some coin; in addition to the payment, the likely added consequence is spamming your followers, old and new, with invitations to boost their numbers by the same mechanism.  It is a viral scheme which you’re buying into, confirms Oliver.

Scammers also have a fine appreciation of economics, so they will spam those more likely to open their wallets – and that’s why New Zealand is in the top 10 for Twitter spam punting Luis Vitton handbags and other ‘designer’ gear.

Get the full report here.

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