Twitter calls for smarter password habits following Jeep, Burger King hacks

Passwords should be unique for each website people use, the company says

Twitter is urging its account holders to be smarter with their passwords following two recent attacks by hackers directed at Burger King and Jeep that took control of those accounts.

The accounts for Burger King and the Chrysler-owned car company were broken into on Monday and Tuesday, respectively. Both accounts have since been restored, but not before the hackers posted tweets about fictitious acquisitions and embarrassing photos to the companies' respective feeds. In Burger King's case, for example, one message read that the company had been sold to McDonald's because the Whopper, the chain's flagship sandwich, flopped.

Twitter responded late Tuesday afternoon with a blog post that did not specifically mention the Burger King or Jeep hacks but did suggest that poor password practices may have been to blame for the account breaches.

"Over the past couple of days, there's been a fair amount of conversation about account security on Twitter," Bob Lord, the site's director of information security, said in the post. "We thought we'd take advantage of this moment to remind you of best practices around passwords -- both on Twitter and on the Internet generally," Lord said.

Chief among the site's recommendations is that account holders should use a strong password of at least 10 characters that include upper- and lowercase characters, numbers and symbols. A unique password should be used for each website people use, and user names and passwords should never be given to unknown third parties, "especially those promising to get you followers or make you money," the blog post said.

People should also be wary when clicking on links in direct messages on Twitter, and should only enter their passwords when they are sure they are actually on Twitter.com and not a phishing website merely purporting to be the site, the company said.

Finally, having the most recent patches, upgrades and antivirus software installed is also a good habit to adopt, according to the blog post.

The Burger King and Jeep hacks followed a previous attack directed at Twitter itself earlier in the month, when the company's servers were breached by hackers who may have made off with user names and passwords for about 250,000 users, Twitter announced Feb. 1.

There is no relationship, however, between that incident and this week's Burger King and Jeep hacks, a Twitter spokesman said. Neither Burger King nor Jeep could provide any information about whether this week's hacks were related to Twitter's earlier data breach.

Facebook, meanwhile, was subject to a hacking attack last week.

But while attacks against social media accounts are increasing in frequency, "most threats come from the inside -- not external forces," said analysts Alan Webber and Jeremiah Owyang at Altimeter, a business research and consulting firm.

For example, a lack of password control within an organization, or rogue employees, could give rise to potential data breaches, they wrote Tuesday in a blog post.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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