May 4, 2013 in Opinion

Guest opinion: Twitter hackers show why better security needed

Madison Keaty Special to The Spokesman-Review
 

When Twitter emerged six years ago, creators Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams and Biz Stone designed it as an innovative way of cellphone messaging. The trio developed the now famous social media tool with which users can send “tweets” of 140 characters, maximum. Today, the “Twitterverse” of more than 200 million users worldwide has become much more than an innocent instant messaging channel. It now poses threats to the security of individuals, and to that of our nation.

On April 23, the Associated Press became another victim of a Twitter hack, when a fake tweet notified users worldwide of an alleged attack on the White House. The tweet caused an instant plunge in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index that wiped out $136 billion in stock market value. The attack took seconds to prove false and its effect on the market was short-lived, yet it remains troublesome. Although the hack was deemed technically unsophisticated, it raises concerns regarding the security of social media.

The AP hacking attack is just one of a series of hacking incidents that have compromised the Twitter accounts of news sources, such as CBS News’ “60 Minutes” and National Public Radio. These attacks occurred days after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced on April 2 that companies can now post legally via Facebook and Twitter to release company news and information to investors, as long as the investors are notified in advance.

The use of Twitter is not all harmful. The social media site can spread news like wildfire, acting as a prominent source for current events and information. In the Boston Marathon bombing tragedy, Twitter played a considerable role in rapidly relaying information to people in Boston and around the country.

However, that event also involved the tweeting of rumors, such as misinformation about the suspects, further proving Twitter’s unreliable nature. The irregularities found in Twitter’s credibility not only caused confusion, but also revealed the alarming trust in social media for news and information.

With the reality that previously secure information of U.S. companies has become vulnerable to hacking also comes the potential for a new avenue for terrorism. If minor, unprofessional hacking cases similar to the one that affected the Associated Press can have such significance on the nation’s stock market, imagine what a well-planned and full-scale cyber attack could produce.

Twitter has defended itself by noting the purpose of the site. According to Chief Executive Officer Dick Costolo during an Online News Association meeting last autumn, Twitter’s primary responsibility is to act as a platform, and not as a news filter. Due to the vast amount of users, however, Twitter has grown into a news source and, theoretically, should act like one.

In response to the latest news media hacking episodes, Twitter has revealed plans to unveil a new two-step authentication process to add greater protection to accounts. The release date for this security program is unknown as internal testing continues.

The sooner Twitter can provide heightened defense mechanisms against hackers, the better. As social media expand their global reach, more information is readily available for just about anyone, including hackers intent on harm. It’s time to start taking social media security seriously, to protect both personal and national interests.

Madison Keaty is a junior at Gonzaga University majoring in sport management. She wrote this for a journalism class.

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