Wednesday 06 March, 2013

Tweet Hacks and How They Hurt Businesses

In November 2012, Twitter users got an email from the social media site suggesting they change their password. There was a huge security breach and many accounts were compromised. During this time, there were a number of ‘tweet hacks,’ or incidents of hackers using people’s Twitter accounts to send out embarrassing or spammy messages.

Tweet hacks are bad for private individuals, but they can be downright disastrous for big companies. Their reputation is on the line and the hackers’ tweets can do a lot of damage before the hack stops. The scare in 2012 was bad, but the opening months of 2013 saw a number of big companies get hacked.

Burger King Bought by McDonalds

In February 2013, hackers believed to be from the Anonymous collective hacked Burger King’s account and tweeted that the company had been bought by McDonalds. It changed Burger King’s profile pic to the golden arches and started tweeting about McDonald’s promotions and retweeting complaints about Burger King. Some tweets contained racial slurs, obscenities and drug references.

Burger King asked Twitter to suspend its account and then issued an apology. Its competitors were sympathetic. McDonalds made an official statement sympathizing with Burger King and saying it had nothing to do with the hack. On Burger King’s Twitter feed, a spokesperson from Wendy’s said, ‘My real life nightmare is playing out.’

Jeep Sold to Cadillac

Something similar happened later that month to Jeep. Jeep’s Twitter account was hacked and hackers tweeted that the company was sold to Cadillac because of rampant drug use. Its profile picture was changed to the Cadillac logo and a stream of inappropriate tweets followed. Like Burger King, the tweets contained obscenities and racial slurs. Jeep regained control of its account and removed the offending tweets.

Hoax Hacks

Following the two highly-publicized tweet hacks above, MTV and BET decided to hack themselves. Both tweeted messages that looked hacked. But without the rampant obscenity, homophobia and racism, it was apparent to many that it was a hoax. MTV for one has done similar things in the past.

Tough Times for Twitter

The hacks made Burger King and Jeep (and MTV and BET to a lesser extent and for different reasons) look bad, but Twitter is the one that took the real hit. The hacks have exposed that the social media site, which is one of the most popular in the world, is vulnerable to hackers in a serious way. The incidents demonstrated how using the social media platform can do damage to your company’s reputation in addition to boosting it.

Some sites, such as Amazon and Google, have developed their own in-house security apps for an extra layer of safety. Many companies are wondering if they’ll be next (although with these hacks being so highly publicized, it will probably be obvious the next time).

Twitter appears to be looking into how to beef up security but it’s been silent on the incidents.

Bob Steele

Bob Steele is an entrepreneur, software developer, marketer, and author living in the Denver metropolitan area. He’s an avid outdoorsman who loves skiing, hiking, fishing, boating, and just plain having fun. His interests include games, space, technology, physics, cooking (well eating actually), economics, business, internationalism, and team sports. With over thirty years of professional consulting experience, Bob has been exposed to many diverse business models and has gained a sensible approach to life. Bob’s company, WaveCentric is focused on commerce, marketing, and entertainment related products.

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