Online Identity Twitter Hack

Online identity nightmare: will Twitter meet the challenge? Will we?

The jaw-dropping attack on the Associated Press last week may finally cause Twitter to start safeguarding our online identity – and it may even jolt us out of our apathy.

We’ve seen serious Twitter breaches for months. Hackers have damaged the digital reputations of major corporations and cultural groups. But Tuesday, the whole world was jolted when hackers falsely sent an AP tweet reporting that there had been two explosions at the White House. Within seconds, investors unloaded $139 billion worth of stocks, as reported by AP. Not all those investors were human; many were computers on autopilot doing high-speed trading. But the consequences are just as real and far reaching.

The ease with which organizations like the Syrian Electronic Army or LulzSec can infiltrate a powerhouse like Associated Press alerts us as to how vulnerable our digital footprint is. The universality of this threat is very real. Don’t be lulled into complacency because you think you’re not as attractive a target as AP. Hackers will continue to test the limits of our online identity security, especially on a platform like Twitter where messages can easily be deceptive or misinterpreted. Anyone with an internet connection has something to lose.

Shortly after the AP breach, better user-authentication was demanded by users and Twitter finally took notice, declaring it would make passwords stronger. Twitter announced it will soon implement the two-step process of authentication similar to that used by Google and Facebook. I doubt anyone today is skeptical about how much damage can be caused by a mere 140 characters.

Another security measure is available to ensure that a user is the only one logging into their account. If an unregistered device (e.g., not your home computer) attempts to gain access, a verification code can be sent to a registered device like a smartphone, reducing the risk of an unauthorized user.

Twitter is not alone in protecting our online identity

Effective security checks don’t let us humans off the hook. All the security checks can swoosh down the drain with one click on a bad link. Though we’ve been hearing it since the days of AOL and dial-up, if you don’t recognize the sender or you feel even a slight suspicion of the link, don’t click on it.

Your online identity, or digital footprint, is a composite of everything you watch, post and link to. When it’s compromised, how you are seen by others can be forever changed. Twitter’s response to the breach acknowledges that national security is at stake and signals a desire to encourage security for its users. It’s your responsibility to stay alert and take every possible precaution to protect your digital footprint.

John Sileo is an online identity expert and keynote speaker on digital security, reputation protection and social media privacy. His clients included the Department of Defense, Pfizer, and Homeland Security. See his recent media appearances on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business.