The Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) is at it again. Reuters is the latest victim of the hactivist group that has been terrorizing social media accounts of news organizations that report news it doesn't like. On Monday, Reuters' official Twitter account was hacked and used as a propaganda tool for proponents of Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president.
Just last week, the SEA targeted the Tango messaging app. Other victims have included the Associated Press, the Financial Times, and The Guardian. Hacks of high-profile news organizations' Twitter accounts have become so common that the micro-blogging site has sent a memo to them that warns it expects still more, and outlines several steps the organizations should take to deter the hacks.
"Earlier today @thomsonreuters was hacked," a spokesman for the news organization told the Wall Street Journal. "In this time, unauthorized individuals have posted fabricated tweets of which Thomson Reuters is not the source. The account has been suspended and is currently under investigation."
We asked Kevin O'Brien, an enterprise solution architect at CloudLock, for his thoughts on the latest SEA attack. He told us we are seeing a continuation of the trend of criminals gaining access to "soft" targets -- Twitter accounts, unsecured web services, databases, and so on -- that represent a platform for espousing political and social viewpoints.
"Organizations need to apply the same rigor to reputation risk that they do to data risk," he said. "Employees must be informed of how and why these types of attacks occur, and put a response strategy in place now -- not after they are hacked and embarrassed."
Ken Pickering, director of Engineering at CORE Security, told us his best guess is that Reuters wasn't taking advantage of Twitter's new two-factor authentication.
"The SEA is good at simple attacks, but two-factor would have made the account much harder to crack," Pickering said. "With two-factor, a successful attacker would need to access the account holder's password and cell phone instead of using basic password cracking software."
Twitter Urges Authentication
In March, Twitter beefed up security with a voluntary, opt-in two-step authentication system in hopes of putting an end to much of the hacking drama associated with its brand name. But companies have to use it in order to benefit from it. Reuters has not publicly commented on whether it has used the authentication.
"Every day, a growing number of people log in to Twitter," said Jim O'Leary, a member of the product security team at Twitter, when the company announced its new authentication scheme. "Usually these login attempts come from the genuine account owners, but we occasionally hear from people whose accounts have been compromised by email phishing schemes or a breach of password data elsewhere on the web."
O'Leary stressed that even with this new security option turned on, it's still important for Twitter users to select a strong password and follow the rest of the micro-blogging service's advice for keeping accounts secure.