Twitter has advised all users to change their passwords after a bug caused the passwords to be stored in easily readable, plain text on an internal computer log.
The Bug – Passwords Visible Before ‘Hashing’
Twitter reported on their own blog that the bug that stored passwords had been ‘unmasked’ in an internal log. The bug is reported to have written the passwords into that internal log before Twitter’s hashing process had been completed.
The hashing process disguises Twitter passwords, making them very difficult to read. Hashing uses the ‘bcrypt’ function which replaces actual passwords with a random set of numbers and letters. It is this set of replaced characters that should be stored in Twitter’s system, as these allow the systems to validate account credentials without revealing customer password.
The fact that the passwords were revealed on an internal server, albeit for what is estimated to be for several months, and that there appears to be no evidence of anyone outside the company seeing the passwords, and no evidence of a theft or passwords turning up for sale on hacker site, indicates that it is unlikely that many of the 330 million Twitter users have anything real to fear from the breach.
In this case, Twitter appears to have behaved responsibly and acted quickly by reporting the bug to regulators, fixing the bug, and quickly and publicly advising all customers to change their passwords.
Twitter’s behaviour appears to be in stark contrast to the way other companies have handled big breaches. For example, back in November 2017 Uber was reported to have concealed a massive data breach from a hack involving the data of 57 million customers and drivers, and then paid the hackers $100,000 to delete the data and to keep quiet about it.
Breaches can happen for all kinds of reasons, and while Twitter’s breach was very much caused and fixed by Twitter internally, others have been less lucky. For example, an outsourcing provider of the Red Cross Blood Service in Australia accidentally published the Service’s entire database to a public web server, thereby resulting in Australia's largest ever data breach.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
If you have a Twitter account, personal or business, the advice from Twitter is quite simply to change your password, and change it on any other service where you may have used the same password. Twitter is also advising customers to make the new password a strong one that isn’t reused on other websites, and to enable two-factor authentication. You may also want to use a password manager to make sure you’re using strong, unique passwords everywhere.
In this case, Twitter has acted quickly, appropriately and transparently, thereby minimising risks to customers and risks to its own brand reputation. Twitter will want this message of responsibility to be received loud and clear, particularly at a time where GDPR (and its hefty fines) is just around the corner, and a time when other competing social networks i.e. Facebook have damaged customer trust by acting less responsibly with their data through the Cambridge Analytica scandal.