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Maggie Shiels

Rubbernecking Twittergate

  • Maggie Shiels
  • 20 Jul 09, 10:25 GMT

Over the last few days, the debacle rather pathetically known as Twittergate has become a drive-by sport in the Valley.

Screenshot of Twitter websiteHere's a recap, in case you missed the whole affair.

As my colleague Rory Cellan-Jones blogged the other day, a cracker called "Hacker Croll" did the nasty on Twitter, breaking into the e-mail account of one of its staff and then into a bunch of other accounts that are stored in "the cloud" using Google Apps.

The apparent motive behind the attack was to highlight how fragile the cloud is in terms of security.

It also underscored how easy it is to crack passwords and that everyone needs to rethink the practice of using the same password for all their accounts.

While that is all very important stuff to think about, I've also been enthralled by a spat the blog TechCrunch. It's a highly respected site and one that likes to cock a snook at anyone in power or authority.

TechCrunch was sent 310 documents stolen from Twitter. They contained all sorts of goodies like the names of people who had applied for jobs at Twitter as well as financial forecasts, the company's thoughts on Google and Facebook and plans for a reality show.

TechCrunch got it in the ear from users about its decision to publish these documents. Comments on its own site ranged from "poor form" to "not cool" and from "criminal behaviour" to "creepy".

TechCrunch founder Mike Arrington was upfront about his decision to publish and be damned, but when he suggested that he had some kind of greenlight from Twitter itself, co-founder Ev Williams tweeted about it and disputed that version of events.

It's been a crash course in ethics 101 and in a Twitpol, 54% thought posting many of these documents was not a good idea.

The question of whether Twitter will sue TechCrunch hangs in the air, though I doubt that will happen. I think Mr Arrington, himself a former lawyer, might relish the possibility just for the heck of it. He is that kind of guy and does not shy away from a bit of a barney, as is evidenced by his decision to publish.

Yesterday saw a new twist in the saga with TechCrunch writer Nik Cubrilovic detailing what he has called "The Anatomy of the Twitter Attack".

He explains how the attack took place and its dealings with Hacker Croll. He says he waited until Twitter closed the security loopholes before going public with just how Hacker Croll gained enough insight so as to hack into the company's secrets, or "underwear drawer" as co-founder Biz Stone described it.

The post also reveals that Hacker Croll has apologised to Twitter and said he did not want to profit from the information but:

"[H]oped that his intervention would show how easy it is for a malicious person to gain access to sensitive information without too much knowledge."

While we wait for the next instalment of this Valley story, those of you looking to pass the time could have a gander at a very funny game called The Ev Files. It is set in the Twitter HQ, with Ev Williams sitting behind a desk strewn with "top secret" files and throwing his iPhone at the head of his arch nemesis Mike Arrington in a quest to stop him publishing corporate secrets.

My highest score is, I think, a very respectable 10 - but I am working on it.

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