Has Twitter become a weapon?

The recent Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack on popular social networks was mainly felt by Twitter, which seemed to either be more susceptible or hit harder by the action, resulting in it going offline entirely for a short period.

The concept of Governments using the internet for spreading information or cyberwarfare is not a new one – but the question is how prevalent it is becoming on social networks, and how many users are aware of it happening?

Twitter seems the most likely place for this question to play out – combine a design which lends itself to the fast spread of information, and an average user age which is more likely, as a percentage of users, to be interested in news and events (particularly political), than most social networks.

Examples of the fast spread of news are commonplace, particularly when it comes to natural disasters, such as earthquakes, or human disasters, such as terrorism or fire. And increasingly these pieces of breaking information are being repeated and picked up by unquestioning users seeking to capitalise on the interest, major news organisations, and even shops using it for spam purposes.

Usage of the media by both Governments and unofficial organisations has long existed, but the internet removes the need to engage with ‘official’ media sources to reach a large audience.

And now we’re seeing the potential for Governments or organisations to co-ordinate attacks against popular services. That’s something that print distribution has somewhat protected us against – you might be able to control or attack a printing press in your own country, but it’s harder to exert pressure on foreign media platforms (although not impossible).

But the internet is accessible from any location, meaning that those who don’t believe in freedom of speech or information are able to co-ordinate their attacks on whichever target they deem suitable – and when it comes to media and social networks, we’re relying on the efforts of private companies to respond. And whilst, for example, the UK Government might interject as best it could to preserve a media institution such as the BBC for the good of the country (being a mechanism to effectively reach the population in times of emergency), do we expect – or indeed do we want, Governments to be increasingly involved in attempts to protect social networks and microblogging?

 

What do you think?

Twitter being used to distribute Malware and DoS attacks

Sadly it’s no surprise that the ‘Trending Topics’ ranking on Twitter is being used by both spammers and distributors of Malware. Or for instigating DoS attacks:

Malware:

Malware is the catch-all term for software referred to in the mainstream press as ‘virusus’ – technically a virus is a type of Malware.

Luckily the methods being used aren’t particularly sophisticated yet – the scammers are creating fake Twitter accounts to post with #hashtags for trending topics and links to sites which contain the malicious software or scams.

Mashable reports that the most common links at the moment are “Twitterbest (dot) mp” and “Zasaden (dot) mp”. An added sign is that in this case, the url also tends to contain a pornographic term.

The alert from Mashable came via Panda Security who explain that the fake accounts link to a page that prompts you to ‘upgrade your Flash player’ or similar. If you agree to download software, it installs itself, and you’ll get error messages warning you of a virus and that you need to pay $89 for fake software called “Fast Anti-Virus 2009”.

The best tip is to avoid links that look suspicious, or are posted by people you don’t know. And if you do think you need to download a software update, go to the site of the company concerned, rather than installing via a random 3rd party site.

DoS:

The New York Times is reporting that Twitter is being used to instigate Denial of Service attacks against key government officials in Iran;

‘But a still developing and less benign use of Twitter in Iran has been its application in denial-of-service attacks against key government officials, including those affiliated with President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.

… Tweets have begun circulating that allow users to target a Web site that will eventually be overcome by simply clicking on the embedded URL in the message. As soon as a user hits the page, as many as 24 frames open up simultaneously and refresh continuously, causing a DoS attack against the 24 separate Web sites.’