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AP tweet that rattled stock markets exposes media vulnerability

The news media are relying more on social media – both as a reporting tool and to disseminate their own content. But a hack of the AP Twitter account shows how things can go wrong.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / April 25, 2013

Jonathan Corpina (r.) and James Denaro work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, April 24, the day that hackers sent out a false tweet on the AP feed reporting that the White House had been bombed – causing a temporary $200 billion drop in US stock markets.

Richard Drew / AP

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Los Angeles

The hacking of the Associated Press Twitter account this week underscored the need for news media to protect themselves against future attacks.

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Hackers sent out a false tweet on the AP feed Tuesday reporting that the White House had been bombed – causing a temporary $200 billion drop in US stock markets. The CBS flagship news magazine shows, “60 Minutes” and “48 Hours,” also had their Twitter accounts hacked.

For news organizations whose reputations are built on credibility, the concern is real – particularly as social media feeds become an increasingly integral part of the news media's overall strategy.

“The media are really rushing to brainstorm about what they need to do to not only make sure that this doesn’t happen again, but to reassure the public that they are reputable and trustworthy,” says Peter LaMotte of Levick, a Washington D.C.-based public relations firm. “What is more concerning about this AP episode is that it went right at the heart of what the company is all about – its reputation for accuracy.”

[Editor's note: The original version of this article misspelled Mr. LaMotte's name and incorrectly described Levick.]

The number of such episodes have been on the rise in recent years, he says, noting that both Burger King and Jeep were the victims of hacking pranks. In the AP's case, the Syrian Electronic Army – known to support President Bashar al-Assad – claimed responsibility for the hack.

Both the social media industry and news outlets are taking steps to try to head off future hacks.

For example, Twitter is moving toward a two-step authentication process as a way to improve security, according to Wired. Anytime a user tweets from a new device, the user would need to input a random code messaged to their cellphone. Google and Facebook already use such a two-step process.

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