New Twitter Exploit Allows Spammers To Add Themselves To Your Following List Without Your Permission

Every since the mass nuking of my Twitter following list, I’ve been playing a lot more attention to who I add. I had rebuilt my new list up to 113 users. However, when I went to check the list just now, I noticed that the list contain 115 users. Two users who I don’t know got added to my following list without me knowing or giving permission.

I would have never noticed this before when I had a policy of following everyone who followed me. But it seems spammers have found an exploit that allows them to add themselves to your following list without your permission. After they get on your following list, they would then send you @reply or DM spam. Unless you are following very few people, like I am now, you may not notice that your following list could have a bunch of spam accounts on it.

Hiding Behind Private Updates

Twitter Spam

The two spam accounts that got added to my list both have private updates enabled. This means you must be following them in order to see their tweets. The reason for putting the account on private is to make it harder for users to report them as spammers. If you can’t see the updates, then you don’t know if their tweets are spam or not. Judging by the last tweets from the two accounts above, I say they’re owned by the same spammer.

I would be interested to know if this has happened to you? Are there people on your following list that you never added yourself? Let’s hope Twitter find and close this exploit real quick. I’ve already deleted 10 accounts on my following list that I never added.


86 thoughts on “New Twitter Exploit Allows Spammers To Add Themselves To Your Following List Without Your Permission”

  1. That’s crazy! It has never happened to any of my accounts.

    1. Benjamin Cip says:

      I’m using only one twitter account, and it didn’t happen to me either. It’s maybe because I don’t have much follower, those spammer are certainly focusing on top bloggers or people whith a big following list.

      1. But if they are not tweeting or sending DM than what is the reason behind doing this kind of act.

        May be they wait for some time and after that they start doing their act.

        John please keep us update about the twitter statement for this.

        1. Hara Kim says:

          Thats very disturbing to hear I am going to start checking my account more.

          1. Well frankly you can’t do much about it,

            -shanker Bakshi

    2. Money-Era says:

      These Twitter problems are typical of fast development and growth the service is encountering….

  2. Zombie_Plan says:

    But the bottom one is dated as last tweeting June 20th..with a massive time difference like that you can’t really tie them both as being owned by the one person…

    1. John Chow says:

      Both accounts only have one tweet on there and nothing else. The bottom account was just made first. They’re both used to send DM spam once they get on your following list.

      1. Zombie_Plan says:

        Ah I see. But with such a difference in time it’d be better to assume they’re made by two different individuals?

        Either way it’s scary to think they can overide your follower

        1. Benjamin Cip says:

          Are there any solutions to prevent this kind of spam? It’s kinda scary as you said. Last time someone was using my informations to comment on John Chow blog using his own domain name, and now there are spammer that automatically get on your following list… what’s next?!

          1. Well, I once heard Gary Halbert said one thing about spammers, and that is… they doesn’t like the look of your face.
            To me this spammers are out to make fun of you. There are just too many lunatic coming online now, If twitter do not solve this, I’m sure in the near future it will eventually close up…

          2. Nick Aviles says:

            Twitter will solve it without a doubt. I’m sure they’re not going to stop updating their software.

      2. Then are you sure you don’t follow them ( I mean it may be you forget to unfollow those account)

        -Shanker Bakshi

  3. Akmal Wardak says:

    My friend signs up for Twitter, and she is automatically following 12 people without she knowing at all.
    she is pissed. Left Twitter. Never came back. All my efforts of convincing her = dumped.

    1. Well such kind of acts do happen … just follow those persons to whom you know and keep remember the number of your followers.

      This is internet and everyone is trying to capitalise those products which are in demand.

      Even Jeremy and John did that by organising new contests and giving away prizes.

    2. aansa says:

      Many people don’t realize that they will be following automatically few people during the sign up process if they don’t skip the list that is presented to them by Twitter.

      She might have not skipped that step and as a result following those people ‘unknowingly’.

      1. Is it, I don’t remember Twitter offer any such list

        -Shanker Bakshi

      2. Yeah, what list are you talking about…

    3. Nick Aviles says:

      I don’t think that happens very often.. Seems kind of weird.

  4. Tyler says:

    Curious how the exploit works, not that I want to try it, but to see it get fixed!

    1. Nick Aviles says:

      let’s leave it up to twitter to figure that one out. I’m sure they can find out much easier, with all that tracking.

  5. That’s happening to me too.
    I only noticed cause I started getting DM spam.
    Sure hope that Twitter fixes it soon..

  6. exodian1 says:

    Yeah I’m starting to get really annoyed by that. Hopefully twitter will be able to fix it soon.

  7. Chintan says:

    Twitter is full of holes but this one seems to be the most serious of all.

  8. Dino says:

    Very interesting, it should be fixed asap.

    1. Benjamin Cip says:

      Hello Dino, I noticed that your blog has been down for several months now, what’s happened to you?

      1. Its still down and nice to see that in Website URL, he is still using that one.

  9. Thanks for the heads up. I don’t think I read my Twitter anymore anyway.

  10. Blogging says:

    Another possibility is that it is done by one of the “twitter services” you use, check if they have something like this in the fine print, if not you should tell Twitter asap. SY

  11. I think Twitter has “gone to the dogs”! I can`t use it much any more.

  12. Kevin Pasco says:

    Twitter is always in some sort of security crisis. Just old news really…

  13. LetUpdate says:

    So, the twitter guy have homework now. 😀

    1. Earningstep says:

      yeah.. they have a lot of job to do since they are one of the best , i mean the hugest social networking site now

  14. oes tsetnoc says:

    this is horrible for true twitter writers

  15. Clarky says:

    Well, I don’t often use Twitter actually. One of the reason is Chinese Great firewall banned it, and I am in China.
    Twitter is good, but I don’ t really use it, so I don’t very care of what is going on with Twitter.
    But I think that spammers are disgusting, I support to fight against them :).

    1. Benjamin Cip says:

      I was told that’s it’s complicated to blog in China because of a lot of restriction regarding censure etc… is that true? My brother is studying in China at the moment, and also seem to have problem loging into several website including twitter.

    2. Are you familiar with the use of proxy servers? I’m not sure if using them will get you in trouble, but proxies are an awesome way to get around that. If you need help figuring out how to use proxies I’d be happy to point you to a few great proxy resources.

      1. Nick Aviles says:

        Proxy servers are extremely slow, and I don’t think they’re even worth using just to get on twitter.

    3. Sahil Kotak says:

      Yes, The Great firewall of chine ban’s twitter, And i will suggest you that twitter is good if you want to do any promotion there but not good if you wanna use it as a social networking site. Because as john told one of the main reason of spamming.

  16. Earningstep says:

    finally i found people who have the same experience with me . but i got something more worst than you john. i got more than 20 unknown people in my twitter list already. and this increase every single day.
    what a damn s*it

  17. Ross says:

    I have noticed this myself and one of the accounts you have listed looks familiar. When I notice these type of accounts I just delete them.

    Just another example of Twitter’s growing pains.

    1. Earningstep says:

      it need more than one day to deleted this ” aliens ” how about if they spam you everyday…
      is there any one know how to prevent this

  18. Roger says:

    No exploit John just that these people where suspended when you did your mass unfollow.

    Their accounts have been reinstated after so pop back on your follow list…

    1. Hmm. That’s an interesting possibility. Do you know this from personal experience?

      1. Roger says:

        Yep, Idid a similar thing to John a while back and noticed it happening, if John keeps an eye out those new appearances they always say ‘Wow finally got Twitter to restore my account after…’ just had one not 5 mins ago which is why I’m back checking this thread 😉

  19. ian says:

    If you know the username, how come you can not report to Twitter?

    1. Nick Aviles says:

      Twitter doesn’t wanna deal with that crap… They’ve got shopping to do.

  20. Stanley Tang says:

    Yup has happened to me. On one of my accounts, I follow one person. But when I checked it a week later, it was following 17 – all spammers

  21. bondox says:

    I never notice that. But all the same twitter need to work on this before it start spreading like wildfire. May be I’ll do a re-check on my list and unfollow unnecessary people so as to monitor my account

  22. Benjamin Cip says:

    Thank you for the information. I haven’t noticed any problem at the moment, but I’ll be more careful from now on.

  23. Typhoon says:

    John, Did you joined any Twitter Train kind of program in which if a new people follows you then you will automatically follow him/her with the help of API..??

    1. That was something I have been concerned about. There are a lot of pages that work with twitter that ask for your twitter info. I sometimes wonder how legit they all are.

    2. John Chow says:

      No I don’t belong to any Twitter trains.

  24. Simon Bunker says:

    Hey John, Thanks for bringing this to our attention. I personally have not been subjected to this exploit but at least I now know what to look out for.
    Thanks again and thanks for the blog
    Simon

  25. beachbettypr says:

    Ditto for me. My follower list grows everyday without having to manually add anyone else. It does get bothersome because every day all day long my email box gets filled with new “So and So is following you on Twitter” messages. Then another email that they sent me a DM, which is usually a sales pitch. I’ve finally given in, and if they are spamming me too much or if it is pitching porn I manually delete them. I just ignore most of it and pay attention to the tweets that are useful.

  26. Erika Marie says:

    This may have happened to me as well. I’ve noticed that I am following more than who is following me. I’m not sure if people are unfollowing me or not, but I found it odd.

    1. Erika Marie says:

      Also, what’s with Twitter now labeling your friends pages as “http://twitter.com/following?page=1312477329100596365” instead of http://twitter.com/following?page=65” so you can go to the end of your list? I know my first followers were “real” followers, so I wanted to find them amongst everyone and now, I can’t even guess which page they’re on. I think Twitter is trying to keep us from doing so.

  27. Blogging says:

    So, have you reported it to Twitter or not? SY

  28. Andy Allsop says:

    I did notice that I was following an additional 11 accounts this morning which I was sure I did not add any of them. But didn’t really think too much about it at the time.

  29. matt says:

    I noticed this too, but didn’t think anything of it, until I saw this post. I delete all the people I follow, and yet it continues to grow each day… also, the accounts that you follow get marked as you follow them, so they are all growing too.

  30. Dj says:

    I get people following me everyday and a lot of them are spammers. I think I am going to have to purge my followers list. This is one thing that Twitter is going to have to address at some point in time or things could turn ugly.

  31. Ms. Freeman says:

    I’m sure Twitter feels safe now that you are on patrol! LOL:)

  32. fas says:

    Dude how the hell did you follow them first?

  33. Lisa Morosky says:

    Ugh. Just reading the title of this blog post pissed me off because I thought, “Excellent. Another way that spammers are continuing to rule Twitter.” How do these account owners think that what they’re doing is a good use of time and energy, and that it’s making them any money? So absurd. I hope the issue gets fixed quickly, as it’s a real bizarre one.

  34. Steve says:

    I bet no one notices this kind of thing. I could be following 100 of these kinds of accounts and would have no ideal.

  35. Arfan says:

    I have a very similar problem on an account it says I am following 16 people, but I am only following 2, and from the 2 I followed myself the other i Don’t know How I am following that account and for some odd reason I cant Unfollow it.

  36. gaban says:

    the key point of twitter is simple.
    understand if they have low security

  37. Sahil Kotak says:

    Hi John,

    I think this is a mischief done by some intelligent spammers only on your account and we all know that twitter always has some small or big defects in its system.

    I have never seen this type of things on my twitter account.

    Better Luck John.

  38. Is it really possible? That’s very horrible! and I was never aware with this thing to happen.

  39. My My – I never notice this, These spammers are bigger then everything out there.

    -Shanker Bakshi

  40. That is crazy. Hopefully it doesn’t happen to me!

  41. Fat Tony69 says:

    This isn’t new. This has been happening to me fort he last few months.

  42. Spam is the scourge of the internet 🙁

    I do think the new twitter terms & conditions will help, but one has to be pro-active in sifting through followers too. I can just imagine trying to deal with 1000’s of followers and weeding the spam followers out of there. Not fun!

  43. Sign up for a new twitter account and follow just 20 users. Wait a month and that number will change 🙂

    To be honest, the spammers come through other people you follow. If you unfollow EVERYONE, you won’t have any spammers following you.

    -Mike

    1. Teen money says:

      Well this is a new knowledge for us. Twitter is getting more and more spammed. We must find a way to fight this exploit.

  44. I think this is SPAM…. my twitter account is safe and i will surely going to make my tweets private so that i don’t get attacked by the spammers on twitter too. I must say these exploiters are really a pain in the …

  45. Simon says:

    Exactly the same to me, i’ve gain 12 followers and following the same 12 et the same time ! Hard to manage… 🙁

  46. Teen money says:

    So, they have found a way to get you follow them. As an internet marketer I know you would be very happy to know about the application they used to add you to their list.
    SPamming is some thing that has different meaning to different persons. You are right when you said Twitter must make its place a safer place.

  47. Volksphone says:

    There was another one one week ago. In result of a browser game they add them self and send messages to all followers. This was really spammy. I think it was called mobsterworld or something

    best regards,
    Volksphone

  48. Kristina says:

    Thank you for this post, John. I have somehow been added to twitter accounts as a follower for a while now and I have no idea how it’s happening. Like you, I’m editing my following list, just can’t do it all at once (hoarding syndrome?) Getting caught up in having massive accounts can happen to all of us but it really doesn’t benefit anyone. I’m so thrilled with the #valueovervolume tweets I get!

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