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Beware of Malware Lurking in Trending Tweets

Hackers have flooded Twitter with viruses, but cyber scientists have devised a new plan of defense.

| 2 min read

Hackers have flooded Twitter with viruses, but cyber scientists have devised a new plan of defense.

Be careful when sifting through tweets, because you might stumble across a new way hackers can reach their victims — the shortened URLs at the end of tweets. They exploit the coverage of real-time events that drive high volumes of traffic on Twitter, so reading through the trending topics will make you more vulnerable to viruses.

The good news is cyber scientists are already developing a defense system to detect the infected tweets. A team of researchers at Cardiff University identified potential cyber-attacks within five seconds at a success rate of 83 percent, and after 30 seconds, the accuracy rate raises to 98 percent. They plan to officially test the intelligent system next year during the European Football Championships, during which hoards of fans are expected to Tweet about the globally followed sporting event.

SEE ALSO: Malicious Apps Look and Function Like Legitimate Apps

Not only do the tweets contain links to malware websites, but clicking on them enables the hackers to meddle with Twitter authentication codes and tweet more links on behalf of the cybercrime victim. If you fall victim to the Twitter viruses, you’ll likely take some of your followers down with you.

“Unfortunately, the high volume of traffic around large scale events creates a perfect environment for cybercriminals to launch surreptitious attacks. It is well known that people use online social networks such as Twitter to find information about an event. Attackers can hide links to malicious servers in a post masquerading as an attractive or informative piece of information about the event,” explained Dr. Pete Burnap, Director of the Social Data Science Lab at Cardiff University

Since most URLs on Twitter are already shortened to stay under the 140-character limit, it’s extremely difficult to tell the difference between a legitimate link and one that leads to malware. Even worse, once your machine is infected, its fate is sealed — Burnap says the malware can turn computers into “zombie computers,” integrating them into a larger global network used to hide information or route further attacks.

To develop their defense system, the scientists collected data from two trending Twitter topics — the 2015 Superbowl and cricket world cup finals — to figure out how to distinguish genuine tweets from the malware ones. They monitored interactions between a website and a user’s device, looking out for any signs of malicious attack, like changes to a user’s machine, by creating new processes or tampering with files. Then they trained machine classifiers to look out for those predictive signs and identify the virus-ridden URLs.

In a press release, professor Omer Rana, Principal investigator of the research, said, “We are trying to build systems that can help law enforcement authorities make decisions in a changing Cyber Security landscape. Social media adds a whole new dimension to network security risk.”

Social media has become a vital communication tool for business and personal use alike, so it’s essential for cybercrime prevention methods to keep it as clean as possible. There’s always buzz going around about what to do in case of a zombie apocalypse, but combating a zombie computer apocalypse would be a whole ‘nother ball game.

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