Twitter fights back against spam, phishing, and other malicious links

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In a move that should be welcomed by many users, Twitter has announced that it is introducing a new feature to combat the many malicious and malware URLs that are distributed via the micro-blogging site.

In a blog entry posted by Del Harvey, Twitter’s Director of Trust and Safety, it was revealed that the site will start using its own URL shortener (twt.tl) for Twitter messages sent privately between two users via a direct message (DM), giving it the opportunity to “detect, intercept, and prevent the spread of bad links across all of Twitter”.

As Sophos’s Chet Wisniewski told DarkReading, the new http://twt.tl shortened url appears to be only evoked with email notifications for direct messages at this time.

Details of how Twitter is determining if a link is potentially malicious or not do not appear to have been released at this time, and it would certainly be great if Twitter would post some more information on how the system will work and what users can expect to see.

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It’s also to be hoped that this new service will be rolled-out to other areas of Twitter too. We’ve seen many times in the past that phishing and spam attacks on Twitter don’t tend to restrict themselves purely to DMs, but will also often be found in the public timeline too, as the following YouTube video demonstrates:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDSskvrUw_g&hl=en_US&fs=1&rel=0]

The problem of dangerous links being distributed via Twitter has been growing for some time, with some 70% of people polled by Sophos reporting that they have been on the receiving end of spam and malware attacks via social networks in the last year.

The news of Twitter’s new twt.tl short url facility follows a few months after bit.ly announced that it would protect users against visiting webpages that may contain a malware, spam or phishing threat using technology from security vendors such as Sophos.

* Image source: wonderferret’s Flickr photostream (Creative Commons)


Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

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