Twitter two-step authentication rolls out as anti-hacking security measure

The Twitter accounts for two national CBS programs

The Twitter accounts for two national CBS programs were hacked and suspended on April 20, 2013. (Credit: Twitter)

Twitter Inc. boosted security on its website, introducing two-step authentication that makes it harder for outsiders to gain access to accounts, a month after a false posting triggered a stock-market decline.

The new measure, available as an option starting today, requires users to input a code sent via text message to a mobile phone in order to log in, Jim O'Leary, a member of Twitter's product security team, said in a blog post.

Twitter, which has more than 200 million users, follows Apple Inc., Google Inc., and Facebook Inc. in introducing two-step authentication, as people put more information online. The hack of an Associated Press account last month resulted in tweets about explosions at the White House that wiped out $136 billion in value from the Standard & Poor's 500 index. That increased pressure on Twitter chief executive Dick Costolo to install safeguards for users as he prepares for an eventual initial public offering.


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"Social sites are a big target of these hackers," said Barmak Meftah, chief executive of San Mateo, Calif.-based computer-security company AlienVault Inc. "All the efforts around fortifying and securing these sites is obviously huge. It's great that Twitter is taking steps toward stopping this."

MORE SECURITY MEASURES AHEAD

Twitter's new authentication feature has been in development since at least last month, according to a person familiar with the matter. The San Francisco-based company said it plans to introduce more security measures to prevent hacking.

"When you sign in to twitter.com, there's a second check to make sure it's really you," O'Leary wrote. "Much of the server-side engineering work required to ship this feature has cleared the way for us to deliver more account security enhancements in the future."

In the AP hacking attack, the fabricated tweet was sent after unauthorized users gained access to the account, the news agency said. Common tactics that hackers use include spear phishing attacks, in which someone is duped into installing malicious code onto their computer or mobile device, and malware hidden on websites.

The AP restored its Twitter account after a security review. The false information from the AP account, which also said President Barack Obama had been injured, came after repeated attempts by hackers to gain access to AP reporters' passwords, the news agency said.

SOCIAL MEDIA PHISHING

In February, the Twitter account for Jeep was taken over. About that same time, the account for Burger King also was compromised. While those breaches were quickly remedied without any significant loss of sales, businesses can come under greater scrutiny after financial regulators approved the use of social media to release market-sensitive information.

That followed an investigation into Netflix Inc. Chief executive Reed Hastings. He had posted monthly viewership results on his Facebook page, rather than in a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing or news release. Tesla Motors Inc.

Chief executive Elon Musk also fueled the debate in March, when he sent Twitter postings that moved the electric-car company's shares.

The SEC changed its guidance for companies distributing information April 2, allowing them to use social-media sites such as Twitter and Facebook to distribute announcements that can move markets.

"For a long period of time, banks were the main target, where hackers would embed a phishing link inside an email," Meftah said. "Social sites are the new attack surface for these guys. If you can phish against Twitter, phish against Facebook -- -- the number of consumers that are going to be affected by it is massive.

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