Over the past few years, Twitter has gone from being a fun way to share your cereal habits to a sharp tool for building brands, reaching fans, and inspiring political change. But when any system gets powerful, people start trying to game it. 140 characters in the wrong hands can blow up the White House or turn a Mickey Mouse Club alum into a candidate for exorcism. Read on for seven hacks that range from fun to frightening, plus tips on how to keep your own account safe from cybercrime.
Whoever tried to start a riot by hacking Axl Rose's twitter account and "cancelling" the 2012 Guns N' Roses European Tour clearly hadn't counted on the fact that Axl's fans are really used to being disappointed. They're also savvy and figured the hoax out quickly, proceeding to make fun of the hacker for not being more creative. It's going to take more than a Twitter hack to bring this guy to his... sing it with me... n-n-n-n-n-n-n-KNEES-KNEEEES!
TIP: Fans can be victims of twitter hacks, too. If a tweet looks suspicious, wait for confirmation before you, say, rip those tickets up in a fit of rage.
I'm Not A Girl, Not Yet A Demon
"Britney Spears" is generally considered a proper name and not a complete sentence, but whoever filled her account with Satanic messages clearly saw it differently. A few years after Brit put the "oo" back in "Catholic schoolgirl," someone saw fit to take it one step further. Whatever the inspiration, the idea of America's bubblegum princess dancing with the devil is pretty hilarious. Kudos to whoever pulled this one off and risked the wrath of one million teens.
TIP: Make sure you don't open yourself up for electronic (or demonic) possession by carefully reviewing your Twitter apps and add-ons. Keep careful track of who you've granted access to, and be sure they revise security protocols as Twitter continues to roll them out.
Not Your Pal
Some people will pull you aside for a conversation if they're angry with you. Others will wait until you're asleep and Sharpie an expletive on your forehead. In the same spirit, some people will take to Yelp or a customer service hotline to air their grievances with a company. Others will hack the company's account and tell the world how they feel:
TIP: Angry employees with company passwords can do this kind of thing, too—just look what happened when HMV laid off one of its social media planners. "Treat social media credentials as sensitive data" and only give the company Twitter info to people who really need it. Change social media passwords regularly, ESPECIALLY when anyone on the team leaves the company.
Her tours bankrupt her. She hits on herself onstage. She dresses in meat, bubbles, and Kermits. No question—Mother Monster lives on the edge. But is that edge sharp enough to have driven Gaga to give free Apple swag to each of her fans (which number around 37 million)? Nope. That was a hack. Sorry, monsters.
TIP: Gaga had been hacked once before this, too—some rival musicians figured out her password, which was apparently "JustDance1." Note to the Lady (and everyone else): avoid using your No.1 single as your Twitter password.
Punker Gets Punk'd
If you want to get a message across to a lot of people, Ashton Kutcher's Twitter feed isn't a bad bet—the man has more followers than God (or CNN). While Kutcher was at the TED 2011 conference, someone broke into his account over a local network. But rather than using his new megaphone for evil, this digital Robin Hood took the opportunity to warn "young protesters" about social media security (and make some "Dude, Where's My Car" jokes). Thoroughly chastised, Kutcher retired from Twitter forever. (Just kidding.)
TIP: Twitter now does offer SSL ("Secure Sockets Layer"), which double-protects your login information. Make sure you've enabled it on your browser and mobile by following these directions.
Burglar Kings & Jeep Creepers
Corporate social media took a one-two punch in February 2013, when a group of hackers calling themselves "Operation Mad Cow" staged a double-takeover of two popular companies. First they had it their way with Burger King, changing the fast food joint's profile to "Just got sold to McDonalds because the whopper flopped =[ FREEDOM IS FAILURE." Jeep was the next victim, pretending to be "sold to Cadillac." Like a pair of rebellious teens, the two chains changed location to "a hood near you" and suffered from a series of tweets referencing drug use. Each company quickly reclaimed its profile and cleaned up, and they exchanged a couple of recovery messages:
TIP: "Even companies with very restrictive policies governing data security, external communications, and content management" can be somewhat lax when it comes to their social media accounts, according to security expert Tony Anscombe. Tighten your reins and avoid accidentally bowing to your competitors!
Never underestimate the power of a little false information. Two weeks ago, hacker collective the Syrian Electronic Army took over The Associated Press's feed long enough to fake some breaking news—that Obama had been injured during "Two Explosions" in the White House. Although the AP immediately corrected the tweet and suspended their account, that didn't stop the Dow Jones from falling 143 points or a nationwide increase in blood pressure. Over the past few weeks, the same group has also infiltrated CBS, E! Online, NPR, and even The Onion. And if we can't trust The Onion, who can we trust?
TIP: The Syrian Electronic Army hacks by phishing—sending emails to company employees that contain links to fake versions of familiar websites such as Gmail (in the AP case, it was a Washington Post article—perfect bait for journalists!). The fake sites harvest the employee's login and password, and then use them to search for company data. Never click on a link in a message from someone you don't recognize, and before you type in any of your credentials, check to make sure you're on a secure site.
Ever been hacked, or seen any other good ones? Let us know in the comments!