With social networking giant Facebook taking the vast majority of publicity punches anywhere from privacy activists to child protection agencies, Twitter does manage to escape the daunting limelight of negative mainstream media critique probably more than it should do.
More so than rival Facebook, Twitters fundamental design is its ability to spread messages – or as we have come to know them as Tweets – as fast, as easily and as far as possible. Of course this fundamental design makes Twitter a perfect candidate to spread misinformation across the Internets epic tweeting community, and Twitter has certainly been subjected to many attacks recently, with an alarming amount of Twitter accounts being hacked and bogus messages being posted from those accounts, especially Twitter accounts belonging to celebrities – President Obama and Britney Spears were bemused by fake messages made from their accounts – Rick Sanchez from CNN probably wasn’t happy when his Twitter account decided he was apparently “high on crack” and was not coming into work today and married Fox host Bill O’Reilly probably did not appreciate his Twitter account calling him gay.
However what is more worrying is when these hackers manage to take control of Twitter accounts belonging to major media outlets, who have thousands of followers at their fingertips. The FOX news Twitter account was hacked reporting of the assassination of President Obama, and more recently the NBC news Twitter account was compromised spreading false stories of a terror attack at the 9/11 memorial ground during the 10 year anniversary service. The pranksters are obviously sick-minded individuals but the truly worrying aspect has nothing to do with them, rather the alarming reality that once a high profile Twitter account like these is hacked, spreading these fake posts to hundreds of thousands of Internet users is literally as easy as the click of a button, yet such high profile accounts have the same security protection as Twitter accounts belonging to the average Joe. In other words, once hackers have your account password, its game over.
Twitter seems to be providing a very appetising challenge for hackers indeed, and its no wonder since hacking a Twitter account and hence exposing your messages to the accounts followers is much more achievable than say, hacking the actual website of a major media website. You see, managing to “hack” the actual website of a major news company [like NBC news] and posting bogus articles is damn near impossible, as the site is protected by multiple layers of exceptional security protocol, yet cracking NBC news Twitter account – an account that has accrued over 130,000 followers at the time of writing – seems as simple as obtaining the account password, which can be acquired through a brute force guessing method, a phishing attack, a malware attack or by working out the answer to the password reminder question.
To the credit of the Twitter community, the “Twittersphere” seems to be reacting to these bogus messages much more responsibly than their Facebook counterparts, since none of the examples we have mentioned have gained any viral success, with most people realising the messages were nothing more than cruel jokes.
However it does highlight certain problems with simple solutions.
People who have Twitter accounts need to make their passwords harder to crack. This means using random letters and numbers to make a password – nothing that can be found in the dictionary. Don’t fall for phishing scams and always make sure you have reliable antivirus installed on your computer.
Twitter needs to realise that high profile accounts that have access to thousands of users need to be protected with more stringent security procedures than a mere password to stop the plethora of high profile accounts being compromised.
And the entire Twitter community needs to know that anything you see on Twitter may not be entirely true, and requires confirmation from multiple sources before you hit that Retweet button.