According to a report filed by Kim Zetter of Wired News, an 18-year-old hacker calling himself GMZ gained access to the account of a Twitter employee on Monday using a dictionary attack program that he created.
Because the Twitter employee's account had access to administrative tools, GMZ was able to access any Twitter member's account by resetting the password.
GMZ told Zetter that he subsequently offered members of an online forum access to Twitter accounts upon request.
Twitter on Monday acknowledged that 33 high-profile accounts had been compromised, including accounts used by Facebook, Fox News, The Huffington Post, Barack Obama, Britney Spears, and CNN's Rick Sanchez.
Twitter said that it had identified the problem and that the company was dealing with it. It advised users to reset their passwords and to make sure that the e-mail address listed their Twitter's account setting area is legitimate.
Dictionary attacks, as the name suggest, are automated login attempts that try every word in the attack program's dictionary. Because this is a well-known attack method, passwords that consist solely of single words, regardless of language, are deemed weak.
Strong passwords, Microsoft suggests, should be at least 14 characters long and should appear to be a random string of characters. The company advises making passwords using the entire keyboard -- uppercase characters, symbols, and numbers -- rather than just lowercase characters. It further recommends selecting a memorable phrase and using the first letters in the words as the basis for a strong password, with symbols like "$" added for increased complexity.
What other security tips should companies know backward and forward? InformationWeek has published an independent analysis on this topic. Download the report here (registration required).