Sunday, June 27, 2010

FTC goes after Twitter for security lapses


The FTC went after Twitter for security lapses that resulted in user information being leaked and accounts being hijacked. Of importance are the list of items that the FTC said that Twitter didn’t do to safe-guard it’s users’ accounts. It’s a good set to learn from:

Lessons to learn from the FTC case against Twitter that you can use in your organization:

  • require employees to use hard-to-guess administrative passwords that they did not use for other programs, websites, or networks;
  • prohibit employees from storing administrative passwords in plain text within their personal e-mail accounts;
  • suspend or disable administrative passwords after a reasonable number of unsuccessful login attempts;
  • provide an administrative login webpage that is made known only to authorized persons and is separate from the login page for users;
  • enforce periodic changes of administrative passwords, for example, by setting them to expire every 90 days;
  • restrict access to administrative controls to employees whose jobs required it; and
  • impose other reasonable restrictions on administrative access, such as by restricting access to specified IP addresses.

Excerpts from the release:

Twitter Settles Charges that it Failed to Protect Consumers’
Personal Information; Company Will Establish Independently Audited Information Security Program

The FTC’s complaint against Twitter charges that serious lapses in the company’s data security allowed hackers to obtain unauthorized administrative control of Twitter, including access to non-public user information, tweets that consumers had designated private, and the ability to send out phony tweets from any account including those belonging to then-President-elect Barack Obama and Fox News, among others.

The FTC’s complaint alleged that between January and May of 2009, hackers were able to gain administrative control of Twitter on two occasions. In January 2009, a hacker used an automated password-guessing tool to gain administrative control of Twitter, after submitting thousands of guesses into Twitter’s login webpage. The administrative password was a weak, lowercase, common dictionary word. Using the password, the hacker reset several passwords, and posted some of them on a website, where other people could access them. Using these fraudulently reset passwords, other intruders sent phony tweets from approximately nine user accounts. One tweet was sent from the account of then-President-elect Barack Obama, offering his more than 150,000 followers a chance to win $500 in free gasoline. At least one phony tweet was sent from the account of Fox News.

During a second security breach, in April 2009, a hacker was able to guess the administrative password of a Twitter empoyee after compromising the employee’s personal email account where two similar passwords were stored in plain text. The hacker reset at least one Twitter user’s password, and could access nonpublic user information and tweets for any Twitter users.

Under the terms of the settlement, Twitter will be barred for 20 years from misleading consumers about the extent to which it protects the security, privacy, and confidentiality of nonpublic consumer information, including the measures it takes to prevent unauthorized access to nonpublic information and honor the privacy choices made by consumers. The company also must establish and maintain a comprehensive information security program, which will be assessed by an independent auditor every other year for 10 years.

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