Security in the Twittersphere: Watch those passwords!

If you use today’s converged communications technology (and you do), you’ve likely heard the message oodles of times: Protect your passwords. After all, a hacker who obtains a user’s online passwords can quickly gain access to all sorts of information, perhaps even stealing the user’s identity. But there’s another side to identity theft that’s not often considered. That’s online corporate identity. Once corporate identity is compromised, all sorts of problems can result for converged communicators and the organizations they represent.

Case in point: The National Football League. If hackers can infiltrate an entertainment giant like the NFL, with billions of dollars in revenue and (presumably) a robust security infrastructure in place, no one is completely safe. Around noon on June 7, the NFL found this out the hard way. An unknown individual gained access to the NFL’s Twitter account and posted a false tweet that supposedly announced the death of the league’s commissioner. The hacker followed up the initial fake tweet with two more. NBC Los Angeles tweeted screenshots of the three-tweet sequence below:

Not surprisingly, the NFL’s actual social media team quickly regained control, deleting the false tweets and, more than likely, changing their Twitter password to keep the hacker from breaking in again. Because more than 19 million people follow the NFL on Twitter, though, the word had already spread far. That forced the NFL’s public relations staff into high alert to refute the rumors. Within minutes, the league had contacted established news services such as CNN to confirm that the commissioner is, in fact, very much alive and well.

Still, although the episode may not have seemed serious for the NFL, it still leaves some repercussions. First, it forced an unexpected PR scramble to fight back against false information and prevent a possible crisis, diverting staff from planned duties and causing needless stress. It also sent a signal that the league, often perceived as bureaucratic and inflexible by fans, may not have its house in order when dealing with common online security risks. And, of course, the hack is just the kind of embarrassing event that fuels Internet memes and comedians for days, drawing publicity that the NFL – already facing skepticism about matters ranging from domestic violence to its handling of concussions – would gladly avoid. So, for converged communicators with an eye on using social media in business, learn from the NFL’s mishap and study strong password practices, like this article from noted cybersecurity expert Brian Krebs. As they say…

A stitch in time saves nine. – Somebody

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