Impact of Twitter Hack Could Have Been Prevented

April 23, 2013

It took no more than 140 characters to send shock waves through Washington and Wall Street on Tuesday.

A tweet sent from the Associated Press' Twitter account falsely claimed there had been explosions in the White House, injuring the president.

The erroneous tweet was the work of hackers. In a matter of minutes, a correction was made, but the false statement left an impact.

Andrew Brubaker, who works at Top Notch Computers in Charlottesville, says the timing of the hack is not unusual.

"I'm not super surprised that there would be a form of cyber terrorism how there was just recently terrorism that happened up in Boston," he said. "Posting that the capital has been attacked, what's that going to do? It's just going to ensue more fear."

Financial planner Jason Hull says it was that fear that sent Wall Street spiraling.

"You had a whole bunch of people, because of electronic trading, high frequency trading, online trading, they were going into their accounts and they were selling like mad," said Hull.

The Dow Jones Industrial average plummeted more than 140 points immediately after the tweet, something Hull attributes to acting on impulse.

"There's very little news, especially from a personal finance point of view, that is really truly going to affect your life," he said. "Instead, use an hourly fee-only financial planner and get a plan straight so that you can read news as a consumer and not read news as a panicker."

He encourages people to implement a "pause period" before making any drastic financial decisions.

Christian Argie owns Top Notch Computers. He says it doesn't take millions of followers to become the target of a hack. He says it can happen to anyone.

"I'd bet that the AP's Twitter account didn't have a very secure password," said Argie.

Argie says the account was likely hacked one of two ways. The first involves "someone sitting at a computer typing like you see in the movies" until they finally crack the code. The other enlists the help of automated bots.

"[The bots] are trying random algorithms, words, numbers and just beating on somebody's account until they happen to get the password right," he said.

Computer users can lower their risk of both types of attacks by making a strong, secure password by mixing upper and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols.

The Tuesday afternoon Twitter hack came before a failed phishing attempt on the media company's corporate network. The AP says unidentified hackers "made repeated attempts to steal the passwords of AP journalists."

The AP suspended its Twitter account and said it was trying to correct the problem.

CBS News reports the Syrian Electronic Army claimed responsibility for the hack. The FBI has opened an investigation into the incident.

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