Twitter warns of possible hacks by state-backed groups

Alert comes on back of mounting concern about hacking sponsored by foreign states

 Twitter sent a warning email to users stating that the hackers may have been trying to obtain telephone numbers, email and IP addresses. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Twitter sent a warning email to users stating that the hackers may have been trying to obtain telephone numbers, email and IP addresses. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

 

Twitter has issued its first ever warning about a possible hack by state-sponsored actors, as the microblogging social media site steps up its scrutiny of possible security breaches.

The company’s alert highlights growing concern over hacking activity backed by foreign governments after a year in which high-profile cyber attacks included the breach of 22 million personnel profiles at the US department of homeland security.

Other companies such as Google and Facebook already have warning systems to alert users who may be targeted by state-sponsored hackers.

Twitter sent a warning email to users that it believes may have been affected, stating that the hackers may have been trying to obtain telephone numbers, email and IP addresses.

The social media company started collecting phone numbers from users earlier this year.

Well-resourced

But most Twitter posts are public, suggesting the hackers may have been more interested in obtaining personal data – such as phone numbers – or finding a way to tweet through hijacked accounts.

Some of the users who tweeted about receiving the notice on Friday were cryptographers, security researchers, activists or journalists.

Many reacted on Twitter with surprise and often a sense of humour. “Remember the day when ‘state-sponsored actors’ meant the national performing arts company doing Shakespeare in the park?,” wrote user Mark Wodrich, whose profile states he is a “software security geek”.

Passwords stolen

A Twitter poll found that 20 per cent of respondents had received the email about the state-sponsored attack, based on 46 users who responded to the survey posted on Twitter by the user Stribika.

Twitter has alerted users about security breaches before, such as in 2013 when it emailed more than 200,000 users to alert them their Twitter passwords and email addresses may have been stolen.

Twitter confirmed that it had sent the email about state-sponsored actors.

One example of state-sponsored hacks is the Syrian Electronic Army, which has previously targeted newspaper Twitter accounts and used them to broadcast false news. The group supports the Syrian president and has also targeted Skype and the websites of several newspapers.