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Twitter's underwear exposed after Google Apps hack

Biz Stone's briefs

Website security in corporate America

An unidentified hacker has exposed confidential corporate and personal information belonging to microblogging site Twitter and its employees after breaching electronic accounts belonging to several people close to the company.

The episode is the latest reminder that the convenience of cloud-based services that store spreadsheets and other information online cut both ways. While they make it easy to access personal notes from anywhere in the world, they also open up the information to theft - especially when the owners are highly public individuals who didn't take due care to safeguard the data in the first place.

The breach occurred "about a month ago," when an email account belonging to a Twitter admin was compromised. From there, the employee's Google Docs, Calendars, and other Google Apps were also accessed, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone wrote here. Around the same time, a personal email account belonging to the wife of Twitter Chief Executive Evan Williams was also compromised, exposing a variety of accounts belonging to the CEO, including Amazon and PayPal.

The breach is an embarrassment for Twitter for a couple of reasons. First, it's the most recent example of employees at the highly visible company failing to adequately protect their accounts. (In January, accounts belonging to Britney Spears and other celebrities were compromised, and as Wired.com later reported, the weak link in the chain was an admin password set to "happiness"). What's more, the breach is airing documents the privately held company surely prefers to keep private.

For instance, by the end of 2013, the company expects to have 1 billion users and revenue of $1.54bn, according to documents posted on TechCrunch. They also claim that Twitter wasn't expected to generate revenue until the third quarter of 2009 (now, in other words), when the company would pull in $400,000. Sales are expected to jump to $4m in the fourth quarter, according to the documents.

Twitter's Stone compared the breach to having one's underwear drawer publicly rifled through: "Embarrassing, but no one's really going to be surprised about what's in there."

That's apt enough, but we think the episode better serves as a reminder of the difficulty of keeping secrets in a Web 2.0 world, at least when you're a target as highly desirable as Twitter. Combine it with a demonstrated lack of best password practices among Twitter employees, and such breaches are inevitable. ®

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