04 February 2013 | 1,319 views

Twitter Breach Leaks 250,000 User E-mails & Passwords

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The big news for the past few days was a rather sizable Twitter hack, although it’s only a small percentage of the 140 million strong Twitter user-base – 250,000 is still a large number.

If you were affected you will have received a password reset e-mail and will be prompted to change your password if you try and login via the Web.

There seems to have been a spate recently of fairly high profile attacks originating from China, I saw someone say “If you haven’t been hacked by China this month, you aren’t working hard enough”.

If you find that your Twitter password doesn’t work the next time you try to login, you won’t be alone. The service was busy resetting passwords and revoking cookies on Friday, following an online attack that may have leaked the account data of approximately 250,000 users.

“This week, we detected unusual access patterns that led to us identifying unauthorized access attempts to Twitter user data,” Bob Lord, Twitter’s director of information security, writes in a blog post.

According to Lord, Twitter was able to shut down the attack within moments of discovering it, but not before the attackers were able to make off with what he calls “limited user information,” including usernames, email addresses, session tokens, and the encrypted and salted versions of passwords.

The encryption on such passwords is generally difficult to crack – but it’s not impossible, particularly if the attacker is familiar with the algorithm used to encrypt them.

As a precaution, Lord says Twitter has reset the passwords of all 250,000 affected accounts – which, he observes, is just “a small percentage” of the more than 140 million Twitter users worldwide.

There haven’t been many details disclosed about this attack, but it seems Twitter managed to discover it whilst it was actually taking place – and managed to shut it down fairly fast. It seems, by the data leaked, that the attacker managed to compromise a fairly core part of the Twitter infrastructure.

They have reacted quickly though and reset the affected accounts, which indicates they know exactly what data the attackers managed to access.

If yours is one of the accounts involved, you’ll need to enter a new password the next time you login. Lord reminds all Twitter users to choose strong passwords – he recommends 10 or more characters, with a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols – because simpler passwords are easier to guess using brute-force methods. In addition, he recommends against using the same password on multiple sites.

Lord says Twitter’s investigation is ongoing, and that it’s taking the matter extremely seriously, particularly in light of recent attacks experienced by The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal:

This attack was not the work of amateurs, and we do not believe it was an isolated incident. The attackers were extremely sophisticated, and we believe other companies and organizations have also been recently similarly attacked. For that reason we felt that it was important to publicize this attack while we still gather information, and we are helping government and federal law enforcement in their effort to find and prosecute these attackers to make the Internet safer for all users.

Although the attack took place this week, it seems to have no relationship to the outage that took Twitter offline for several hours on Thursday. On the other hand, however, Lord’s post does make rather cryptic mention of the US Department of Homeland Security’s recent recommendation that users disable the Java plug-in in their browsers. He mentions Java twice, in fact.

You can read the Twitter response here:

Keeping our users secure

Both the WSJ and NYT have recently been raided by China based hacking crews, no one knows if this is the work of government backed cyberterrorism squads, or just private hackers doing it for profit or even fun. You can read more about that here:

First the NYT, now the Wall Street Journal: But are hacking attacks from China new?

Source: The Register



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One Response to “Twitter Breach Leaks 250,000 User E-mails & Passwords”

  1. Alana H. 22 March 2013 at 7:30 am Permalink

    Hi there,

    Great article, thanks. I personally don’t use Twitter that much, but I shudder at the thought of having my social media profiles hacked. I’m always asking myself what the hacker’s motive could be when they decide to hack into social media accounts. What are your recommendations in regards to setting a powerful and hack-free social media password?

    Alana