REPORT: Twitter Crime Jumps 20% in 2010

Need further evidence that you should keep your guard up while tweeting away in 140 characters or less? Twitter is "growing as a playground" for malicious Internet attacks, with a crime rate that jumped 20 percent last year alone, according to a new report from Barracuda Networks Inc.

Need further evidence that you should keep your guard up while tweeting away in 140 characters or less? Twitter is “growing as a playground” for malicious Internet attacks, with a crime rate that jumped 20 percent last year alone, according to a new report from Barracuda Networks Inc.

Calling it the “dark side of Twitter,” the report found that Twitter is becoming a victim of its own success, with malicious activity increasing as user activity increases.

In 2010, the Twitter “crime rate,” or number of accounts created each month that are eventually blocked by Twitter for misuse or suspicious or malicious activity, grew from 1.6 percent during the first half of 2010 to 2 percent during the second half of 2010.

The Twitter statistics were just one of the findings in the newly released Barracuda Labs 2010 Annual Security Report that examined more than 34,000 malware samples over a 153-day period.

Overall, the report found that cybercriminals continue to sharpen their focus and aim their attacks at social networking services and search engines.

Search engine malware more than doubled in 2010. One in five search topics lead to malware, while one in 1,000 search results lead to malicious attacks.

Google led among search engines in delivering malware-poisoned results (38 percent), while Twitter led among social networks, producing 8 percent of Internet malware in December 2010 alone. Google was followed by Yahoo (30 percent), and Microsoft’s search engine, Bing, at 24 percent, in the total amount of malware-tinted search results.

“Attackers focus on where they can get the most eyeballs and profit, and today that means social networks and search engines,” according to Paul Judge, chief research officer at the California-based Barracuda Networks Inc.

On Twitter, researchers found attackers are exploiting vulnerabilities like shortened URLs and trending topic searches to achieve their goals.

The report also pointed to hijacked accounts as another concern, and the ability of attackers to use automated tools, like the NeoSpoloit exploit kit, to quickly set up fraudulent accounts and spam users based on their tweets.

“Twitter continues to be an attractive destination for attackers,” Barracuda Networks said in the report. “While the growth rate of Twitter has slowed, existing users are getting more engaged. As such, attackers have increased their efforts there.”

Further highlighting the increased engagement among Twitter users, the report also found that, for every 100 Twitter users, 39 have one to nine followers, while 50 have at least 10 followers.

“Users are tweeting more often, and even casual users are becoming more active,” Barracuda Networks said.

In addition, 43 percent of the people on Twitter are active users, meaning they have at least 10 followers, follow at least 10 people and have tweeted at least 10 times. That compares to 21 percent in January 2010 and 29 percent in July 2010.