Twitter hack: Activists and journalists targeted in ‘Doubleswitch’ social media attack

Hackers have been taking over the Twitter accounts of activists and journalists to spread false information online, but they’re also making it harder for the victims to regain control of their accounts, according to nonprofit AccessNow.

The group says it’s a new form of account hijacking, which it’s calling “Doubleswitch.” When the hackers take over the account, they change the password, email and username, making it difficult for people to recover their accounts.

“Attackers who gain control of an account can silence and embarrass critics, and can also create uncertainty and spread misinformation,” the nonprofit wrote.

Activists in Venezuela, Bahrain, Myanmar, and other countries who tried to get their accounts back had a difficult time. In some cases, they never recovered their accounts.

In Venezuela, journalist Milagros Socorro and Miguel Pizarro, a human rights defender and parliament member, fell victim to the “Doubleswitch” attack.

Twitter worked with the victims to recover their accounts, but by then hackers had already started spreading false information.

It was unclear how the hackers gained access to the accounts, but the group said it learned from calls to its digital security hotline that these attacks were evolving. The group did not say how many people have been affected by this type of social media attack, which can also work on Instagram and Facebook.

Social media companies, including Twitter and Facebook, should update their features and rules to address this type of attack, AccessNow said.

But users can also take action to try to protect themselves.

For extra security, they can enable two-factor authentication, which requires users to enter a code sent to their mobile phone to log into their account. They can also use apps like Authy or Google Authenticator instead of providing their phone numbers.

When asked about the Doubleswitch attack, Twitter pointed to the company’s security tips. A source familiar with the matter said these type of attacks are rare and the company is taking action to protect users.

Facebook also encouraged users to use two-factor authentication as a precaution.

“We recognize the risk of malicious actors seeking to mislead people. For our part, we are taking a multifaceted approach to help mitigate these risks, such as building a combination of automated and manual systems to block accounts used for fraudulent purposes, and we continue to encourage people to use two-factor authentication,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement.

Photo: The Twitter building is photographed Dec. 14, 2015, in San Francisco. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

 

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