By the Blouin News Technology staff

Stronger security measures long overdue for Twitter

by in Media Tech.

The "Twitter" logo is seen on a tablet screen on December 4, 2012 in Paris. AFP PHOTO / LIONEL BONAVENTURE        (Photo credit should read LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images)

AFP/Getty Images/Lionel Bonaventure

What initially might have seemed like a social playground for some to comment on trends, ideas and stories has evolved into a critical medium that can cause the stock market to plummet – and even raise national security issues. Twitter, which has 200 million active users around the world, has become a ubiquitous hacking target given the vast influence it has on the public.

The proclivity for hackers to invade social networks has grown exponentially in recent years. In 2012, the number of phishing sites spoofing social networking sites increased 125%, according to Symantec’s 2013 Internet Security Threat Report. And with the growth of social sites’ usage and vulnerabilities, a cyber attack has more far-reaching repercussions.

The latest instance of a fake Associated Press tweet that claimed there was an attack on the White House and President Obama was injured. According to new reports, the AP’s Twitter account was compromised due to what appears to be a successful phishing attack that allowed the hacker to use the AP’s Twitter account to publish a tweet that read “Breaking: Two Explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured.” Not only did the tweet prompt national security concerns, it also caused the Dow Jones Industrial Average to drop 143 points, from 14,697 to 14,554. The index fell nearly 1% in three minutes as traders reacted to the social media hack. That wiped out $137 billion of the index’s value – at 71 characters, almost $2 billion a character – before prices bounced back once it was clear the tweet was false.

In another recent Twitter hack, the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) claimed responsibility for two of the U.S.-based CBS network’s Twitter accounts. The Twitter accounts of ‘60 Minutes’ and ‘48 Hours’ – two popular news shows – began to blast tweets on April 20 stating, “They are watching you and killing you. The #SEA is on the American people’s side” and “The US government is hiding the real culprit of the Boston bombing” among others.

Social media networks like Twitter and Facebook are considered barometers for public opinion – and cybercriminals hoping to spark attention, even panic, have the power to gravely affect the stock market and compromise national security. Clearly advanced security measures are overdue, and in the aftermath of the recent fake AP tweet, Twitter is reportedly working on a two-step authentication security solution, which is undergoing internal testing before being rolled out slowly to users.

Two-step authentication requires users to provide two pieces of information to verify their identity, explained J.D. Sherry, global director of technology at Internet security company Trend Micro – a security feature Twitter has yet to install. Google and Facebook have already implemented two-step authentication to keep users’ accounts safe. So why would Twitter delay? Most likely because the social network’s approach that requires only username and password is typical for sites trying to gain critical mass, Sherry added. But these instances of hacked Twitter accounts are certainly enough to warrant a change in that philosophy. Perhaps it’s time Twitter steps up to real-life security concerns and puts aside its corporate agenda to protect the safety of its users and the public.