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Twitter users made to tweet 'Meow, I <3 catfacts' at Snowden to stop spam

All in the name of operational security

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Sometimes people forget that social networks are, by default, public spaces. What you post there — your address, your personal email, maybe pictures of that driving license you just earned — can be found and used against you. Some Twitter users are learning this lesson the hard way, or, well, the cat facts way. A concerned citizen has been scraping phone numbers posted publicly by Twitter users, and sending them interesting facts about cats in the hope of educating them about the internet. The only way to stop this deluge of feline factoids? Tweet "Meow, I <3 catfacts” at Edward Snowden.

"When they tweet their phone number, they think nothing of it."

"The main cause is to spread awareness of operational security," said the coder behind the project, who wished to remain anonymous due to his possible breach of anti-spamming laws. "When people tweet pictures of their drivers licenses or debit cards, they usually understand their mistake upon someone retweeting it. When they tweet their phone number, they think nothing of it." He adds: "If the messages sent to them were malicious, [they] could be exploited with ease," citing bugs like Android Stagefright as a possible vector of attack. This is the danger of sharing your phone number in the 21st century — it's not just a way to get in contact, it's a possible route to hacking your whole life via your smartphone.

The process of finding numbers and texting them is automated using just two scripts. The first accesses Twitter's live feed of tweets via the social network's API, using "key words and a little regular expressions filtering to locate phone numbers," and the second uses a free texting website to send the messages. (The coder responsible says this part can only be automated because of the site's weak CAPTCHA process — another security lapse.) And as for why the targets have to tweet at Snowden to lift the cat fact curse, the answer is simple, why not?

"most of them have no idea who Snowden is."

"When he joined Twitter, [Snowden] expressed his appreciation for cats," the project's creator told The Verge. He stands for everything privacy, while so many people still broadcast their personally identifiable information freely. I thought thought some people would understand the pun on their poor operational security by having to tweet Snowden but turns out most of them have no idea who Snowden is." But at least they now know a little more about cats.