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Online scammers jump on Pope resignation "within seconds"

12 Feb 2013
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Almost immediately after word of Pope Benedict XVI's resignation crossed the wires, online scammers set up misleading and spamming tweets designed to lure users searching for information.

Security researchers with Sophos said that "within seconds" of the first headlines on the news appearing, scammers took to using the #Pope hashtag to appear in search results.

According to Sophos, many of the first messages were not at all related to the Pope, with some advertising adult content.

Online scammers have long used search engine optimisation and trending news topics as a means for drawing in targets. According to researchers, however, the rise of microblogging and the use of hashtags has made preying on keywords more popular than ever.

"What is happening here is what we see every day on Twitter - whether there is a Papal resignation or not," Sophos senior technology consultant Graham Cluley said in a blog post.

"Spammers scoop up the hottest trending topics on Twitter and use the popular phrases to sprinkle amongst their tweets - in the hope that social media users who are following a particular meme or subject will click on their link rather than a legitimate one."

Security has become a hot topic for Twitter of late. Earlier this month the company revealed that a breach of its systems lead to the account details of more than 250,000 users being compromised by hackers.

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Shaun Nichols

Shaun Nichols is the US correspondent for He has been with the company since 2006, originally joining as a news intern at the site's San Francisco offices.

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