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Maggie Shiels

Trouble in Twitterland

  • Maggie Shiels
  • 6 Jan 09, 17:12 GMT

You know you've reached a tipping point when people try to take you down.

barack_britney203.jpgThat is what has been happening to the popular microblogging service Twitter. The company's blog revealed that "33 Twitter accounts had been 'hacked' including prominent Twitter-ers like Rick Sanchez" (who is an anchor on CNN) "and Barack Obama" (who we all know as the president-elect).

The person who took over and sent fake messages from Rick Sanchez's account tweeted that "I am high on crack right now might not be coming into work today".

It might seem funny on the surface - but not if it's happening to you.

I can almost imagine pre-pubescent teenagers snorting with laughter behind their hands, but these attacks are no joke. People's reputations are being messed around with. So too is the credibility of a service that is growing in popularity and has proved its value in breaking news stories like the recent Mumbai bombing.

Another attack concerned Bill O' Reilly, the tv host of tv's The O'Reilly Factor. The official Fox News Twitter account posted the message "Breaking: Bill ORiley is gay". (Their spelling mistake, not mine.)

And Britney Spears had her account hijacked by someone writing lewd messages concerning certain parts of her body. Barack Obama's account, which was last used in November on election day, posted a link to a third party survey with the lure of $500 in free gas.

Biz Stone, Twitter's co founder, has said the company immediately locked down the accounts and investigated the issue. On the Twitter blog, he said the accounts are now back in the right hands.

Mr Stone wrote that the "accounts were compromised by an individual who hacked into some of the tools our support team uses. We considered this a very serious breach of security and immediately took the support tools offline".

It was a double whammy for the service which also got hit by phishing attacks.

Mr Stone added: "In addition to this Monday morning madness, we're coming off a wacky weekend where lots of folks were tricked into participating in a Phishing scam aimed at Twitter users."

There is little doubt that this is a sign of the times for Twitter and as it continues to grow in popularity, there will be more attacks. Mr Stone admitted as much and said "Twitter has gotten a lot of attention recently, which could be reason enough for an attack."

It doesn't help that the service is a darling of Silicon Valley and of many bloggers and journalists alike. Having such fans makes it more of an attractive target to hackers who get to see their attempts written up. But it also puts Twitter in the hot seat with the onus resting firmly with the company to do more to strengthen security and maintain the credibility of the service.

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