Twitter's servers have been breached by "extremely sophisticated" hackers who may have made off with user names and passwords for about 250,000 users, the company said Friday. Updated: Read our Twitter password tips. [Original story posted 1:08am, February 2]
Twitter said unusual access patterns led it to identify the attacks, which took place during the past week.
"We discovered one live attack and were able to shut it down in process moments later. However, our investigation has thus far indicated that the attackers may have had access to limited user information -- usernames, email addresses, session tokens and encrypted/salted versions of passwords -- for approximately 250,000 users," Twitter Director of Information Security Bob Lord said in a blog post.
Twitter reset the passwords and revoked session tokens for the accounts, and said it was emailing the affected users Friday and telling them to reset their passwords.
Twitter password tips
Twitter urged all its users to ensure they are using strong passwords on Twitter and elsewhere on the Internet. Passwords should be at least 10 characters and use a mix of upper- and lowercase letters, as well as numbers and symbols, the site said.
"Using the same password for multiple online accounts significantly increases your odds of being compromised," Twitter said. "If you are not using good password hygiene, take a moment now to change your Twitter passwords."
For extra safety PC Advisor recommends you reset your Twitter password from within Twitter rather than via any email, in case these emails are now being spoofed. Follow PC Advisor on Twitter.
There have been reports that phishers have already started sending out fake Twitter emails encouraging people to give up their Twitter passwords.
We therefore recommend that you don't click on links in emails (however official looking) asking you to change your Twitter password. Go directly to the Twitter site, log in as normal, and change your password there.
As our colleagues write on PCWorld.com the password should contain numbers, punctuation, and upper- and lower-case letters. It shouldn’t include anything likely to be found in a dictionary or a common name.
Longer is better. A 15-character password could be 90 times harder to crack than a 14-character one.
“Create a formula that you'll remember but no one else could guess. For instance, you could use the name of your alma mater, spelled backwards, capitalizing every letter that rhymes with the word tree, followed by your phone number typed while holding down SHIFT (to get punctuation), and ending with the year you were born, squared,” writes PCWorld’s Lincoln Spector.
Keep in mind your passwords should never include any personal information, because any novice hacker can easily find out your full name, the names of your spouse or children, your pets, or your favourite sports teams.
It’s also important to use a different password for various sites - never use the same password twice, advises Christina DesMarais.
"This attack was not the work of amateurs, and we do not believe it was an isolated incident," the company said in its post.
It noted that The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal also said they'd been targeted by hackers this week. Those companies said the attacks originated in China, but Twitter did not point to a country of origin.
Twitter said it thinks other companies and organizations have recently been similarly attacked.
The company said it was still gathering information about the attacks and is working with federal law enforcement agencies to prosecute the attackers.