06 May 2013
The Syrian Electronic Army has hacked the Twitter account of satirical news website the Onion.
Early reports had the hack pegged as a bit of satirical comedy from the site. However, a picture from the Syrian Electronic Army seems to validate reports that the Onion was indeed hacked.
Among the villainy performed by the hackers was a picture of the group's logo posted on the Onions Twitter page. The Syrian Electronic Army also tweeted out a slew of tweets displaying Onion articles before their actual posting.
The Onion being the comedy site that it is took the hack in good fun. Following the hack, the site posted stories recommending the best practices to avoid getting hacked and a reminder that the firm had changed its password.
"Reduce interest in your website by cutting down on stories about very popular subjects, such as Syria," read one of the websites anti-hacking tips.
Hacks on Twitter have led to calls for two-factor authentication on the social networking site. Following the requests, Twitter has been said to be working towards bringing the feature into the fold later this year.
While two-factor authentication is a good option, we don't think the Onion will mind going without for a few months. The satirical news site seems like a terrible company to go after with a hack. The Onion, more than any other site, seems capable of turning a cyber attack to its advantage.
Following the high-profile compromise of the Associated Press Twitter account, the microblogging service is said to be mulling some major security changes.
According to a Wired report citing company sources, Twitter is now working to introduce a two-factor authentication option which can help to prevent account theft from phishing attacks. After hearing how the AP incident occurred, such protections are more than welcome.
In the aftermath of the breach, which resulted in fraudulent claims that the White House had been bombed and president Obama had been injured, staffers reported receiving some suspicious emails which were later found to be connected to a phishing attack.
It seems that the Syrian Electronic Army used a series of targeted phishing emails to harvest the credentials of AP staffers and eventually gain access to the company's main Twitter account. The stolen password was then used to access the account and launch a hoax that managed to temporarily disrupt the stock market.
If the reported series of events is true, then the AP hack could have been easily thwarted, and if reports on new developments are to be believed, it soon will be.
Wired has posted a report which claims that Twitter will soon be launching a two-factor authentication platform. The site uncovered a job report from earlier this year which would suggest that additional protections would soon be arriving.
Why is that so important? Two-factor authentication ties the account credentials and log-in to actual holder. The platform not only requires a username and login, but also a numerical code which is randomly generated and then sent to a user's mobile phone for one-time use.
It's not easy to see how this can help to protect users. Even when a username and password are harvested, the attacker would have to steal the mobile device of a user in order to access an account. This can dramatically reduce the number of attacks, especially high profile breaches, which result from phishing.
Of course, in order to be effective, these efforts have to be put in place. Corporate accounts will have to identify a single manager who can receive and provide the one-time credentials for protected accounts, and that may prove to be another headache for corporate marketing and public relations teams who share an 'official' Twitter feed.
17 Apr 2013
Twitter hacking is a serious issue. Take for instance, the recent hack of National Public Radio's (NPR) Twitter account. NPR's account was hacked and erroneous tweets were sent out following the attack.
The slew of hacks makes it obvious that something needs to be done. Twitter called on its users to create stronger passwords in February, but that isn't enough. The company needs to take action and implement two-factor authentication for those that want to use it.
It's not a ground-breaking idea. Security experts have called on the firm to implement authentication for the last couple of years. Other companies like Microsoft even plan to use multi-factor authentication later this year.
Yet, Twitter has failed to get the memo (tweet?). At a time when more and more businesses begin to use Twitter for PR, something has got to be done. Enterprise can't have hackers getting a hold of their feeds and sullying their names. It's bad for business, both Twitters and the users.
It's becoming clear that something is wrong. Even the words "#IveBeenHacked" have become something of a meme on the micro-blogger site.
Luckily, something may be on the horizon. Earlier this year, a Twitter job posting popped-up calling for a software engineer to build multi-factor authentication.
The job posting looks to be leading to some sort of security update. Hopefully, it comes sooner rather than later.
On Thursday V3 reported that six Metropolitan Police staff, including three serving officers, were sacked for writing ‘offensive’ and ‘intimidating’ posts on social media sites.
Well, that number has risen by one with the resignation of sergeant Jeremy Scott who wrote a message claiming he hoped recently deceased former prime minister Margaret Thatcher had died a “painful and degrading" death and that the world was a “better place” now she’d passed away.
Alas for Sgt Scott that he doesn’t read V3, as he may have been aware of the hardline stance taken by the Met against those that posted inappropriate updates on social media sites over the last few years as the perils of social media continue to catch out the unaware.
"These serious cases are relatively rare and we remain vigilant. We will continue to support and train our staff to ensure they are fully aware of our policies on social media use," said Directorate of Professional Standards at the Met, commander Allan Gibson.
Then again, it seem strange someone with such a public position doesn’t stop to think about what they’re writing on social media and whether it could land them in hot water.
Then again, that’s the trouble with social media – it can seem so instant and ephemeral it’s easy to forget everything you say is public, easily disseminated and lives, essentially, forever online.
11 Apr 2013
Time was, any start-up with even the vaguest connection to the 'social' buzzword would have an army of venture capitalists knocking down their doors with the offers of money. Indeed, it's the idea that social ties can provide advertisers with more effective ways to target their message that has seen the likes of Facebook achieve massive valuations.
But what if these social ties aren't as effective as we might assume? That's the conclusion of a group of researchers from Delft University of Technology. Are friends, they wonder, overrated?
Christian Doerr and his colleagues have been studying the impact of social ties on Digg – which may not enjoy the buzz it did in its heyday, but still represents a useful example of how users engage with content on a social network.
Doerr and his group wanted to study what impact friendship had on the popularity of any given story on Digg – and whether friends were a critical component of stories getting promoted to Digg's front page.
Users of the site can vote up content they find interesting, and see what other stories their friends have voted up too. Indeed around 180 stories per day get enough votes to be deemed popular, at which point they're featured on Digg's front page, at which point the can go viral.
In examining which stories went viral, the researchers looked at 10 million stories from two million users over a four-year period, 200,000 of which achieved a critical mass.
"The impact of the friendship relations on the overall functioning and outcome of the social network is actually surprisingly low,” Doerr and his colleagues reported.
So while users with similar interests and physical locations could be seen forming friendships, they showed little sign of following up on what their friends were doing.
“Users with even a nearly identical overlap in interests react on average only with a probability of two percent to information propagated and received from friends,” the researchers note.
Furthermore, of the stories that became popular, friendships were only important in driving popularity in about half of all cases – and even then, they needed a large of random users to vote stories up to the extent they made Digg's front page.
“The importance of friends and the friend network in the propagation of information is less than originally perceived,” they concluded.
Such behaviour is a far cry from the marketing message often pushed out by social networks, who argue that peer group recommendation makes a uniquely powerful way to reach consumers.
The research was published on the ArXiv academic paper [pdf] repository.
Nasa and former Star Trek icon George Takei have both won Shorty awards for their innovative, and often out-of-this-world, use of social media.
Nasa won its second consecutive Shorty award for the best government use of social media, while Takei edged out ever popular "Grumpy Cat" to win a distinguished achievement in internet culture award at the fifth Shorty Awards.
Nasa won the award for its dynamic use of services to share its research findings with the world, sharing things like photos from Mars' surface and explorative satellites to jokes about Pi day.
The agency's policy of encouraging scientists and astronauts to create accounts on Twitter to share their experiences participating in missions was also praised during the ceremony.
The policy means that to date, Nasa uses almost 500 social media accounts with its main @NASA Twitter handle boasting 3.8 million followers.
Web sensation George Takei, the 75-year-old actor and author who first shot into fame as Hikaru Sulu in the Star Trek TV series, won his award for very different reasons.
Takei's Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr blog to share comic internet memes sent to him by fans and occasional commentary on poignant political issues.
These have included images of his chief competitor for the award, Grumpy Cat, a feline that seems unimpressed with any item brought before her.
His calls for donations for charitable causes have proved very effective. Takei famously used his Twitter to raise money for disaster relief efforts in Japan following the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011.
You can watch the Takei's acceptance speech for the Shorty award in the video below.
Next time you want to cheer someone up or encourage them to swear a little bit less, here's a novel idea: tell that unhappy soul to sod off. As it transpires, the further we travel, the happier we are and the less we swear.
That's the startling conclusion reached by a group of researchers who have been analysing tweets to gauge how of moods change when alter our location.
The researchers, led Christopher Danforth a computer scientist at the University of Vermont, analysed a collection of 37 million geo-located tweets to analyst the movement and mood of around 180,000 people.
Because Twitter allows users to tag their messages with GPS co-ordinates, it was relatively simple to assess users' movement patterns. But the researchers wanted to know what impact their movements had on their mood.
Danforth and his team have previously used their so-called hedometer to measure the relatively happiness of different US states – Hawaii was, perhaps unsurprisingly the happiest; Louisiana the saddest.
The system is based on the frequency happy word or sad words appear in tweets, with these signals determined by Mechanical Turk workers. So for example, the inclusion of words such as 'great' or 'haha” were regarded as happy, while 'hate' or 'damn' were considered to be negative.
The researchers noted most users had two main locations they tweeted from, which they reasoned to represent people's home and work locations – which they dubbed their expected locations.
The tweets made when users were away from their expected locations reveal that the number of times they mentioned food or used happy words increased.
It may seem intuitive that people's mood would improve if they ventured out for a meal – but the team's work suggests that there's more these changes than simple dining out.
“Individuals who travel farther use positive, food related words more frequently, and negative words and profanity less frequently,” they wrote.
Danforth and his team plan to put their hedometer to other tests, examining how other factors affect people's mood. It's the type of large-scale social investigation that's only possible thanks to the adoption of smartphones and technology such as Twitter, and provides a hitherto unknown insight into the human condition.
Of course, the one thing it won't be able to show is how much happier people are when they turn their smartphones off.
03 Apr 2013
When it comes to data, it may be easy to assume that size really does matter. There's nary a tech company going that hasn't attempted to jump on the big data bandwagon, with the common consensus being that in the search for truth, the more data points the better.
It's not an argument that convinces Kate Crawford, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research. As she points out in a newly published piece for the Harvard Business Review, massive data sets and predictive analytics do not always reflect objective truths. Sometimes big data is victim of bias.
Crawford points to the example of a study into Hurricane Sandy, which lashed the East Coast of the US in late October 2012.
In it, researchers examined more than 20 million tweets, combining it with data from Foursquare, to uncover a detailed picture of how people responded to the terrifying events. And in short, they stocked up on food before the storm hit, and went out partying after it was over. Or so the data tells us.
The problem is, most of the data came from Manhattan hipsters, where it might be assumed, use of Twitter was higher than average.
“Very few messages originated from more severely affected locations, such as Breezy Point, Coney Island and Rockaway,” notes Crawford.
Other big data studies have illustrated similar problems, such as Google's massive over-estimation of the number of US flu cases this winter. Google Flu Trends predicted 11 percent of the population would contact the illness, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated the figure to be just six percent.
But while there may be many that would welcome less breathless excitement about so-called big data, Crawford's thinking doesn't seem the end of tooth-grindingly awful buzz phrases.
“We get a much richer sense of the world when we ask people the why and the how not just the "how many,” she wrote.
“We can move from the focus on merely "big" data towards something more three-dimensional: data with depth.”
Deep data. Whatever next?