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How to recover a stolen Twitter ID from Russian-speaking Bruce Willis impostor

After her account was hijacked, a reporter found out what it took to keep a Twitterbot from assuming her professional identity.

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This is an excerpt of a story from Passcode, the Monitor's forthcoming section on security and privacy. Read the full article here.

It was one of my first few days on the cybersecurity beat, and I was on the phone with a potential source in one of the military’s online warfare units. He asked me to tell him about my background because he didn’t Google me before our conversation. I laughed, absentmindedly typing my own name into the search engine.

In that moment, I was glad he hadn't tried to find me online.

The second search result was my Twitter account — except it wasn’t mine. At least, not anymore. Bruce Willis was my avatar and I had, apparently, been tweeting exclusively in Russian.

I did a double-take, and realized what happened. Weeks prior, I changed my handle from @SaraSorcherNJ to the simpler @SaraSorcher when I left my job at National Journal covering national security to join The Christian Science Monitor to help lead a new section on, somewhat ironically considering the situation, security and privacy. Apparently within days of that change, someone — or a bot — had taken over my former work identity.

My real account, @SaraSorcher, still existed. In my picture, I was still smiling and wearing a gray suit. The @SaraSorcherNJ account — Fake Me — sported a smirking, balding Willis in a track suit and v-neck white tee. I tweet about news and wonky security policy issues. Fake Russian-speaking Me enjoys “watching Hannibal, eating apples and pondering the nature of existence." (Thanks, Google Translate.)

As a human fighting online with what was probably a robot, I wanted to know: Can a user prevent their old handle from being seized?

READ THE FULL STORY: Find out what happened by reading the full article on Passcode, the Monitor’s forthcoming section on cybersecurity.

If you are interested in stories like this, sign up for Passcode, the Monitor's forthcoming site covering security and privacy in the digital age.

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