Twitter – the latest trick to control botnets

A security researcher has found that hackers are using Twitter as a means to distribute instructions to a network of compromised computers, known as a botnet.

The traditional way of managing botnets is using Internet relay chat (IRC), but botnet owners are continuously working on finding new ways of keeping their networks up and running, and Twitter seems to be the latest mechanism.

A now-suspended Twitter account was being used to post tweets that had links new commands or executables to download and run, which would then be used by the botnet code on infected machines, wrote Jose Nazario, manager of security research at Arbor Networks, on in a blog posting on Thursday.

“I spotted it because a bot uses the RSS feed to get the status updates,” Nazario wrote.

The account, called “Upd4t3”, is under investigation by Twitter’s security team, according to Nazario.

But the account is just one of what appear to be a handful of Twitter command and control accounts, Nazario wrote.

Botnets can, for example, be used to send spam or carry out distributed denial-of-service attacks, which Twitter itself became the victim of last week.

The botnet Nazario found is “an infostealer operation,” a type that can be used to steal sensitive information such as login credentials from infected computers.

They’re called twits for a reason!

While Nazario’s blog focuses on nefarious uses of Twitter in botnets, a study published last weeks focuses on how asinine much of the stuff on this social networking site really is.

The study from Pear Analytics LLC shows that 40.55 per cent of tweets are “pointless babble.”  (Who would have guessed it?)

The most surprising part of the study At least it’s not a higher percentage.

The Twitter Microblogging site has skyrocketed in popularity, with users increasing their time on the site by 3,712 per cent between this summer and last. That bump makes Twitter the fifth-most popular social networking site, according to The Nielsen Co.

Twitter also gained much-needed credibility when astronauts used it to communicate from space, and when tweets were issued from the White House, and when Twitter turned into a sort of a lifeline for the people of Iran during the recent government crackdown over disputed elections there.

But Twitter is still dogged by the reputation that many people simply use the site to blather on about a bad cup of coffee, a good hair day or the annoyance of having to park too far from the mall entrance.

The bad, the worse and the useless

Ryan Kelly, founder and CEO of San Antonio-based Pear Analytics, decided to see what percentage of tweets are somewhat meaningful.

“A while back, we embarked on a study that evolved after having a debate in the office as to how people are using and consuming Twitter,” Kelly wrote in a blog post.

“Some felt it was their source of news and articles, others felt it was just a bunch of self-promotion with very few folks actually paying attention.

But mostly, many people still perceive Twitter as just mindless babble of people telling you what they are doing minute-by-minute; as if you care they are eating a sandwich at the moment.”

Kelly said his firm looked at a sample of 2,000 tweets — in English and originating in the U.S. — that were posted between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Eastern time over a two-week period. The researchers categorized the captured tweets into six categories: News, Spam, Self-promotion, Pointless Babble, Conversational and Pass-along Value.

As many might have guessed, Pointless Babble (as in “I just spilled my coffee” or “My kid is soooo cute”) was the biggest category, with a whopping 40.55 per cent. Conversational was a close second, with 37.55 per cent, and Pass-along Value was a distant third, with 8.7 per cent.

“With the new face of Twitter, it will be interesting to see if they take a heavier role in news, or continue to be a source for people to share their current activities that have little to do with everyone else,” Kelly wrote.

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