Could your latest follower be a hacker? Every day, 3.5billion malicious Tweets spread spam and viruses 

Twitter is the online destination to keep up with everything from celebrity gossip to what your friends have for breakfast – and your ‘follower count’ (how many people listen to your Tweets) is an index of social success online.

But are your followers all they seem?

Not necessarily, say computer experts – some may be spammers, who hope you’ll follow them back out of courtesy, and then may attempt to spam you, or even infect your computer with viruses.

Average users may receive up to 17 ‘dangerous’ Tweets per day.

The habit of Twitterers sending ‘shortened’ internet links makes the service particularly dangerous for computer users – hence new software released this week aimed to defend against spammers and other cyber-criminals.

What may look like a link to a hilarious news story might turn out to download software that turns your PC into a ‘zombie’ computer, remote-controlled by criminals on other continents.

Catalin Cosoi, technical officer with BitDefender, who this week unveiled SafeGo software which weeds out ‘unsafe’ Twitterers, says, ‘There are 200million registered users on Twitter, and 200million Tweets are sent every day, but far more are received – up to 350billion – because each Tweet is sent to a large list of people.’

‘According to our statistics, one per cent of these are malicious, containing spam, or links to sites containing viruses or other malicious software. That means that 3.5billion nasty Tweets are sent every day. For an average user that can mean up to 17 dangerous Tweets per day.’

‘Most are simply spam – many spammers monitor keywords that are trending on Twitter, then send out spam containing those words. Others do contain malicious software.’

With SafeGo, suspected spammers among the list of people you ‘follow’ are flagged with four colours, ranging up to red for extremely suspicious – users who have sent spam or malicious links. It’s easy to pinpoint ‘followers’ who may not actually be friends, and then block them.

The service will also notify you by instant message if a new follower is suspicious: as long as you keep the software running, it will monitor your follower list.

Many recent Twitter spams target people looking for work, with links that direct them to ‘work from home sites’ that require a fee to join. Their credit card details are then stolen.

Indonesian cyber-criminals recently attacked Twitter users with a shortened link that appeared to lead to an image from FaceBook – but instead installed software on the victim’s computer designed to steal money.

‘Clicking the links redirect to a shortened Twitter URL,’ said security experts Trend Micro in a blog post this week. ‘Most of these Twitter users are from Indonesia. To lure users to click the URL, cybercriminals incorporated into the link . Since September 2 2011, approximately 600 Tweets using the same link have been posted.’

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