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Twitter Fights Off Hackers With New Authentication Process

Twitter Fights Off Hackers With New Authentication Process
May 23, 2013 12:27PM

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The general consensus in the security community is "good job, Twitter." We asked security expert Ken Pickering about Twitter's latest attempt to improve security through voluntary, two-step authentication. He told us this is a big and overdue step by Twitter towards being more secure, but it's only half the battle. The question is, will people use it?

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Twitter has been a weak link in one too many high-profile hack attacks. Now, the micro-blogging service is finally doing something about it. Twitter is beefing up its security with a voluntary, opt-in two-step authentication system in hopes of putting an end to much of the drama.

"Every day, a growing number of people log in to Twitter. 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," says Jim O'Leary of the product security team at Twitter. "Today we're introducing a new security feature to better protect your Twitter account: login verification."

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.

A Painful Process?

Twitter is responding to recent attacks against news agencies by the Syrian Electronic Army, a "hacktivist" group that supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Financial Times was the latest victim. Twelve posts entitled "Hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army" appeared on the FT's tech blog between 12:38 p.m. and 12:42 p.m. London time last Friday, May 17th, with the company's Twitter accounts also disrupted, the Financial Times said. The Guardian, a UK news site, as well as the Associated Press and others have also been attacked.

"With login verification enabled, your existing applications will continue to work without disruption," O'Leary said. "If you need to sign in to your Twitter account on other devices or apps, visit your applications page to generate a temporary password to log in and authorize that application."

O'Leary goes on to describe the login verification as a two-form factor authentication. Here's how it works: When you sign into Twitter.com, there's a second check to make sure it's really you. Specifically, you'll be asked to register a verified phone number and a confirmed e-mail address. After you enroll in login verification, you'll be asked to enter a six-digit code that Twitter sends to your phone via SMS each time you sign in to Twitter.com.

Twitter Plays Catch Up

The general consensus in the security community is "good job, Twitter." We asked Ken Pickering, a development manager in the Security Intelligence at CORE Security, to elaborate on the sentiment from security experts. He told us this is a big and overdue step by Twitter towards being more secure, but it's only half the battle.

"A successful attacker would now need access to your password and your cell phone instead of basic password cracking software, but the hard part is convincing people to use it," Pickering said.

"Google and Facebook have been using two-factor authentication for a while and I have yet to see widespread adoption. If you care at all about the security of these social networks, you should be using two-factor authentication. As long as everyone does, we'll be in a much better position."

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