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Twitter Counter Hack Uses Familiar Attack Mode

Experts advise users to be more aware of the potential downside of third-party apps.

Turkey’s rift with Holland and Germany became worldwide technology news today when it was reported that thousands of Twitter accounts – some of them high-profile such as Forbes', Amnesty International's and even Justin Bieber’s – were hacked via a compromise of the third-party analytics app Twitter Counter.

Experts speculate that the attacks are a reprisal for recent moves by both countries to deny permission for Turkish ministers to speak about a forthcoming Turkish referendum on presidential powers at local rallies of Turkish expatriates in those European countries.

According to The Guardian, the attackers used Twitter Counter’s permissions to post anti-Fascist tweets in Turkish that used hashtags such as #NaziGermany, #NaziNetherlands and "see you on #April16," the date when Turkey plans to hold the referendum. The tweets also linked to a pro-President Tayyip Erdoğan video on YouTube.

Security experts were not surprised by the hack, and warned users that they need to be more careful about using third-party social media applications.

“People have to be careful about the ability of third-party apps to post on your behalf because you can’t assume that the third-party app is as secure as the mother ship,” says Michael Patterson, CEO of Plixer International. “Consumers have to understand that by gaining big data analytics they are giving up the privacy of their information.”

Patterson says users should log off social media apps such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn after every session, pointing out that even though they could still be hacked in the event of a major push by an attacker, logging off still “hedges their bets in case your account is compromised.”

Nathan Wenzler, chief security strategist at AsTech, adds that many hacks follow this type of attack sequence, saying that it’s easier to break into something less defended, which already has access to where you want to ultimately break in than it is to go after the well-protected application directly.

“Using a flaw in Twitter Counter to then gain access to accounts which live in Twitter absolutely follows an attack chain I would expect,” he explains.

Wenzler says users need to review which applications they have connected to their Twitter account, adding that they should remove any they don’t use or trust. He also advises making sure users review their Twitter feed regularly to ensure that no tweets are being posted that they are not aware of.

“Unusual messages are an immediate [sign] that someone has gotten control of your account,” Wenzler says. “And be sure you use a strong, complex password for your account that isn’t the same password that you use elsewhere and change it on a regular basis.”

In response to the news, Twitter issued the following statement: “We are aware of an issue affecting a number of account holders. Our teams worked at pace and took direct action. We quickly located the source which was limited to a third party app. We removed its permissions immediately. No additional accounts are impacted. Advice on keeping your account secure can be found here.”

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