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The trouble with Twitter

It’s no surprise that users of one of the world’s biggest social networks are targets for hackers, but two particularly interesting issues hit Twitter last week – both of which could affect you and the world around you.

The first was a story about explosions in the White House. The message: “Breaking: Two Explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured” came from the Associated Press’ twitter account – a totally credible source.

However, after creating panic amongst many people, it was revealed that the account had been hacked, the password discovered and the tweet fictional, designed purely to cause havoc.

Aside from just alarming many US citizens, however, the tweet had much bigger consequences – the value of the US stock market plummeted for a few minutes as automated computer programs, designed to listen to news sources and buy and sell stocks accordingly, moved their money out of US businesses.

There are two important messages here. The first is that you should never believe what you read on the internet without verifying it elsewhere. It’s easy for a hacker – or even just a misguided journalist – to post a story that isn’t entirely true, and that can have a big affect on what you believe or just to do.

The other message is that viruses are a serious problem. It’s likely that the Associated Press account was hacked using some kind of keylogger or malware installed by one of the staff accidentally.

That small oversight amounted to panic and a real-world affect on global markets, just from one small lapse in security. Scary.

The other Twitter issue last week was a new piece of malware that steals “Twitter authentication codes” from its users. This allows the malware to tweet as that person, posting a message with a link which – you guessed it – downloads the malware onto another computer.

All of the tweets thus far have been in Dutch, so if you’re from The Netherlands, please pay close attention to any URLs in tweets, and as always, if you’re unsure about a link, don’t click it.

Be vigilant

The two problems teach us one important message when using Twitter and other social networks: it’s all of our responsibilities to ensure we’re as protected as possible otherwise we could be partly responsible for spreading malware that has a serious affect on the world. If your virus protection isn’t updated, you could be infected, then accidentally spread the malware to someone else (who trusts and follows you), and so on, until the malware ends up at a computer like the Associated Press’, and tells the world the White House has been attacked.

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