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Sophos: How twitter accounts were hacked

January 2009 by Sophos

Sophos is calling on Twitter to enforce the use of strong passwords by its members following the recent publication of details on how a hacker managed to gain access to Twitter’s internal systems earlier this week.

According to reports, the teenage hacker, who uses the online handle GMZ, claims he gained entry to the micro-blogging site’s administrative control panel by using a dictionary password guesser at a Twitter staffer’s account. Unfortunately for Twitter and its hacked users, the staff member had chosen the dictionary word “happiness”.

GMZ claims that he did not use other hacked accounts himself, but posted a message on a hacking forum offering access to any Twitter account by request.

"What lessons can be learnt from this incident? Firstly, you should never use an easy-to-guess password to secure your online website accounts. Using a dictionary word like “happiness” shows a complete lack of knowledge about how to use computers safely," explained Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos. "Twitter could help avoid this problem by insisting that passwords are not known dictionary words, or forcing the use of numbers and other characters - such as underlines, exclamation marks and percentages - in users’ chosen passwords."

"Secondly, Twitter and other websites should be able to tell when hackers are trying to brute-force their way past a password. GMZ says he ran his automatic password guessing program overnight before it finally broke its way in. There’s no reason why Twitter couldn’t, say, notice that someone has entered the wrong password three times in a row, and then insist they wait 15 minutes before trying to log in again," continued Cluley.

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