Technology

Twitter accounts of Duke, others hijacked over Turkish diplomatic feud

Posted March 15

— Hundreds of Twitter accounts have been hijacked amid the ongoing diplomatic feud between Turkey and two European nations, Germany and the Netherlands.

It's not clear how many accounts were taken over altogether but a slew of them, ranging from celebrities to government agencies, suddenly began issuing anti-German and anti-Dutch abuse in Turkish late Tuesday.

"This is a small Ottoman slap," the swastika-studded messages read in part, blasting "Nazi Germany" and "Nazi Holland."

The Twitter hijackings are the latest in a campaign of online vandalism that has followed from days of escalating tensions between Turkey and its European partners. Politicians from Turkey's ruling party have demanded to campaign in Europe ahead of their country's constitutional referendum next month. The demands have met with refusals and controversy, which has devolved into angry nationalist chest-thumping, a display mirrored online by a campaign of low-level web defacements. On Monday alone several hundred websites were hit at a single Dutch internet hosting provider, Versio, according to an employee who posted a message to the company's help forum .

Forbes, UNICEF, Duke University, Amnesty International and Starbucks Argentina were among those who appear to have had their Twitter accounts hijacked late Tuesday. Tennis star Boris Becker and the official account of soccer club Borussia Dortmund were also taken over, according to German news agency dpa.

"My twitter account was hacked !!!" Becker said in a follow-up tweet . "I never posted this as I obviously don't speak Turkish ..."

Most if not all high-profile accounts appear to have since returned to normal.

Duke officials said they deleted a post that included images of a swastika and a Turkish flag, as well as several Nazi-related hashtags.

"The single tweet was removed as soon as we were alerted to it, and we notified our followers of the hack in a separate tweet," said Michael Schoenfeld, Duke's vice president for public affairs and government relations.

The mass hijack appears to have been the result of a weakness in a third-party social media management program, Twitter Counter, which is based out of Amsterdam. Twitter Counter CEO Omer Gidor said in an email that the company was investigating the matter.

"We've already taken measures to contain such abuse of our users' accounts, assuming it is indeed done using our system," he said in an email. Neither he nor Twitter could say how many people were affected.

Security experts said that the hijack showed the danger of handing over social media accounts to third parties, a move typically taken by companies juggling several personas online.

"Users should be wary as to which services they allow access to write to their Twitter accounts," said Javid Malik of San Mateo, California-based AlienVault.

It's not clear who is behind the latest round of hijackings.

A Turkish group calling itself Private Hackers, who've claimed responsibility for the earlier defacement campaign, has so far not returned emails from The Associated Press. A number listed by the group in its internet registry records appeared to be out of service.

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