The one tweet that Twitter users do not want to hear about is hacking. And that is exactly what they woke up to yesterday.
Twitter acknowledged that it was hacked and said the intruders may have gained access to information on 250,000 of its more than 200 million active users.
The news sent hundreds of thousands of users of the popular microblogging site in Saudi Arabia into an overdrive. They went about feverishly changing their passwords and protecting their data.
According to latest figures issued by The Social Clinic, a Jeddah-based consultancy, there are 3 million Twitter users in Saudi Arabia. That represents 12 percent of the Kingdom’s population
Nobody had a full idea if their account was among those that were compromised. They started Googling for the antidote to limit the damage.
“I usually turn on my cell phone in the morning and the first thing I do before brushing my teeth is check tweets from friends,” said Sarah Al-Magdi, a Twitter user. “I was alarmed when I saw a direct message or DM from my friend informing me about the hack attack and advising me to reset my password.”
Al-Magdi was relieved to find that her account was safe. “But as a precautionary step, I kept off Twitter throughout the day,” she told Arab News.
It later turned out that Al-Magdi’s fears were misplaced because Twitter had immediately reset the passwords of the compromised accounts and had revoked session tokens, which allow users to stay logged into the service without reentering a password. Affected users were not able to log in and received an e-mail instructing them to reset their password.
The statement from Twitter mentioned 250,000 accounts affected, but did not specify which particular country or countries were affected by the hack attack. Until late last yesterday, there were no reports of Twitter users in Saudi Arabia being affected.
According to Twitter, the attackers may have stolen user names, e-mail addresses and encrypted passwords.
The online attack comes on the heels of recent hacks into the computer systems of US media and technology companies, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Both American newspapers reported this week that their computer systems had been infiltrated by China-based hackers, likely to monitor media coverage the Chinese government deems important.
Bob Lord, Twitter’s director of information security, said in the blog that the attack “was not the work of amateurs, and we do not believe it was an isolated incident.”
“The attackers were extremely sophisticated, and we believe other companies and organizations have also been recently similarly attacked,” Lord said. “For that reason we felt that it was important to publicize this attack while we still gather information, and we are helping government and federal law enforcement in their effort to find and prosecute these attackers to make the Internet safer for all users.”
As soon as the news about hacking broke, one Saudi tweeted: “Brothers and sisters, be careful in opening the link that you receive over Twitter because that might be the reason behind your account getting hacked and I also advice you to change your password.”