February 2, 2013 in Nation/World

Twitter hackers tap into 250,000 accounts

Terry Collins Associated Press
 

SAN FRANCISCO – Twitter confirmed Friday that it had become the latest victim in a number of high-profile cyber-attacks against media companies, saying that hackers may have gained access to information on 250,000 of its more than 200 million active users.

The social media giant said in a blog posting that earlier this week it detected attempts to gain access to its user data. It shut down one attack moments after it was detected.

But it discovered that the attackers may have stolen user names, email addresses and encrypted passwords belonging to 250,000 users. Twitter reset the pilfered passwords and sent emails advising affected users.

The online attack comes on the heels of recent hacks into the computer systems of U.S. media and technology companies, including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Both American newspapers reported this week that their computer systems had been infiltrated by China-based hackers, likely to monitor media coverage the Chinese government deems important.

The Chinese foreign ministry could not be reached for comment today, but the Chinese government has said those accusations are baseless and that China itself is a victim of cyber-attacks.

“Chinese law forbids hacking and any other actions that damage Internet security,” the Chinese defense ministry recently said. “The Chinese military has never supported any hacking activities.”

Bob Lord, Twitter’s director of information security, said in the blog that the 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,” Lord said. “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.”

One expert said the Twitter hack probably happened after an employee’s home or work computer was compromised through vulnerabilities in Java, a commonly used computing language whose weaknesses have been well publicized.

Ashkan Soltani, an independent privacy and security researcher, said such a move would give attackers “a toehold” in Twitter’s internal network, potentially allowing them either to sniff out user information as it traveled across the company’s system or break into specific areas, such as the authentication servers that process users’ passwords.

In a telephone interview Friday, Soltani said the relatively small number of users affected suggested either that attackers weren’t on the network long or that they were only able to compromise a subset of the company’s servers.

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