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Tweets of Shame Can Taint Real-Time Search

Before social networking, hacking was confined to one's personal computer. Now in addition to having your hardware violated, social media hacking is attacking one's personal dignity and broadcasting it to the world. And apparently the perpetrators are equal-opportunity hackers as anyone can find themselves at risk, whether you're a celebrity or a first time tweeter! But can this latest hacking tactic affect real-time search as well?

According to a NY Times report, malicious programs are worming their way into Twitter and Facebook accounts and sending out tweets and status updates to one's friends and followers.  If you've already been attacked, you are familiar with the messages that have told your contacts how to make instant cash, raise one's IQ, or urging them to watch a YouTube video in which they star.

Those that have been affected often respond with "tweets of shame" to their constituency in the form of an apology similar to what @joeyvesh13 did with his tweet of December 9th.



As noted, celebrities are not immune to this type of spam. On November 12, the @BritneySpears account listed two successive tweets that inferred she was a devil-worshipper. And as much as this lady has had public-image problems over the years, conspiring with Satan never seemed to have been one of her shortcomings.



Chet Wisniewski of Sophos, a Web security firm says 21 percent of Web users report that they have been a target of malicious programs on social networks and Kaspersky Labs, a Russian security firm believes one in 500 links on Twitter point to bad sites that can infect an unprotected computer with viruses. Others that are purely spam can redirect users to links to sites that pay referral fees for driving traffic, such as porn sites or other nefarious e-commerce sites.

Matt Marquess who works for a public relations agency was shamed into having his tweets hijacked and broadcasted to his followers with offerings promising a $500 gift card from Victoria's Secret.



It's one thing to communicate with a loved one about lingerie, but according to Marquess who hadn't checked his Twitter account in days shockingly questioned:  "How long have I been Twittering about underwear?"

With Google and Bing looking to incorporate real-time search from Twitter and Facebook into search engine results (see previous blog, "Google's Live Updates Will Be More Relevant than Twitter?" ) unless these type of spam and malware practices are not curbed, we might just find a lot of "Tweets of Shame," and "Tweets of Blame" popping up in search results.

According to a USA Today report, links to corrupted websites continue to turn up in search results as a result of spam messages and infectious postings infesting social networks. Combining the two seems likely to tilt the advantage to the bad guys. "This is just going to amplify the bad effects and make it easier for spammers and hackers to get their stuff to the top of search results," says Michael Greene, security analyst at PC Tools.

Hackers will find access much easier now that this door has been opened. Once a hot topic is posted, like, "health care reform," within minutes a reference to that tweet will now appear in Google or Bing's real-time search. Now the ill effects have just multiplied exponentially. Instead of Danny SullivanDanny Sullivanjust one's followers affected, thousands, even millions of people could be involved if that search results includes a spam-infected link that prompts a click-through. And according to Danny Sullivan,editor in chief of SearchEngineLand.com, "tainted tweets moving quickly and intermittently into search results could be very hard to filter." He adds, "this is a new cat and mouse game!"

Cybercriminals abound in our society and with each new online innovation, they will find new ways to infect and control our enterprises. We will all need to be diligent watch dogs to keep this current threat at bay...suffice it say, if you are to be shamed by one of your outgoing tweets, make sure it is one that you authored.