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Twitter settles with FTC over celeb account hacks

Obama and Spears account hijinks fail to amuse privacy watchdog

Website security in corporate America

Twitter has settled with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over a complaint that it had failed to safeguard user privacy well enough, a shortcoming that allowed two successful attacks against the micro-blogging network in 2009.

The settlement means that Twitter will be obliged to establish a more rigorous information security policy – which will be independently audited, at Twitter's expense, every two years. The micro-blogging site also agreed not to make assurances that mislead consumers about the "extent to which it protects the security, privacy, and confidentiality" of private information.

Breaches to the agreement, finalised last Friday, will cost Twitter up to $16,000 a pop.

The agreement draws a line under a complaint from the FTC over a brace of breaches between January and May 2009 that allowed hackers to gain administrative control of Twitter. Hackers were able to send out Tweets under assumed names as well as snoop upon the privacy settings of prominent users.

Hackers were able to take over prominent Twitter accounts – including those maintained by Barack Obama and Britney Spears – and make merry as a result of security shortcomings by Twitter back in January 2009. A simple password guessing attack was used to break into Twitter feeds, before falsely outing Fox News pundit Bill O'Reilly as gay and eliciting the strange admission from Spears that her vagina was four feet wide "with razor sharp teeth".

A second, separate hack in late April allowed hackers to spy on the account settings of the most exclusive Twitterati. The breach allowed miscreants to discover that both Ashton Kutcher and pop star Lily Rose Allen had blocked celebrity gossip monger Perez Hilton, for example. Barack Obama had blocked 96 Twitter users at the time, according to screenshots of the hack posted on a French blog. ®

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