Twitter Hack Underscores Social Media Vulnerabilities: Four Thoughts

The latest Twitter hack should have you concerned.
The latest Twitter hack should have you concerned. Photo by Esther Vargas via Flickr
If you happened to miss it, Twitter was the subject of a massive breach on Wednesday that affected a number of high profile accounts including Joe Biden and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos among others. The hackers posted cryptocurrency scams on the compromised user accounts. As a result, Twitter shut down all verified accounts — the ones with the blue checkmarks — for several hours. That included the official Houston Press account.

According to Twitter officials, they believe the perpetrators managed to get into the system not in the typical ways — through a software vulnerability or cracking a user account with an insecure password — but rather by accessing Twitter employee accounts. And while the bogus posts didn't remain online for long, it illustrated how even a few seconds of access can be enough for talented hackers.

It also brings up a number of legitimate worries for not only Twitter and its users but for security experts who monitor these things and try and stop future attacks. And that's just the beginning of the concerns. Here are some thoughts.

Have we mentioned you should totally change your password?

There is a reason scientists constantly remind people to wear masks, social distance and wash hands during a pandemic. It may seem almost trivial, but it is a first and sometimes best line of defense against viruses. The same thing goes for passwords. Having a long, complex password that you change at least once per year (preferable every six months) is one of the best protections you can have against hackers and things like malware. Your social media account may not seem all that important, but even one foot in the door from a skilled programmer can get them access to your private information and even that of your friends and family. Just change your password...and wear a mask.

Our reliance on powerful social media platforms is leaving us exposed.

It may be widely reported that Facebook and Twitter have fallen out of favor with Gen's Y and Z, but they are still two of the most popular information sharing platforms that have ever existed along with Instagram, TikTok and others. We join them because our friends are on them. We curse their existence and the dominant role they have in our lives because they are a time suck and are often filled with propaganda and new ways to fight with our great uncle. But, in truth, the far greater danger is all the information we just give away to anyone who can access and aggregate it. Were we not so dependent on social media, we wouldn't be so vulnerable.

Social media is still in its infancy.

And it's worth noting that social media is young...really young. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have been around for roughly 15 years. Instagram launched less than a decade ago. In the world of the internet, that might seem like a long time, but it's really not considering the rapid growth of these websites began in the last ten years. It often takes decades to sort out how to use and protect sources of information as valuable as these. And those who are smart enough and willing to break rules/laws in the process often can use their talents to exploit those of us who are just enjoying ourselves. Social media companies are so caught up in the explosion, they are frequently ill equipped to deal with the fallout. And by the time old men in Congress are calling for hearings, the people they summon before them are on the downside of their success as people have moved onto the next cool thing.

Hackers are very, very good at what they do.

Never underestimate the power of someone who wants desperately to find the weakness in a system to use it for personal gain. Programmers spend their entire lives dedicated to the pursuit of code for fun, so if they can do it for profit as well, it feels like the logical next step. Obviously, not every hacker is a bad person, but they are typically so far ahead of the curve, security firms seek them out and pay them big money to assist in providing a line of defense against their kind. It's a world most of us will never understand. They know it and they are counting on our laziness (cough...passwords...cough). More importantly, they are fully expecting that we will be so mesmerized by social media's allure, we'll ignore the warning signs and concerns over privacy. That's when hackers are at their most terrifying.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke