Social networking service Twitter has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it deceived consumers and put their privacy at risk by failing to safeguard their personal information, marking the 30th case the FTC has brought targeting faulty data security, and the agency’s first such case against a social networking service.
The FTC’s complaint against Twitter charges that serious lapses in the company’s data security allowed hackers to obtain administrative control of Twitter, including access to tweets that consumers had designated private, and the ability to send out phony tweets pretending to be from then-President-elect Barack Obama and Fox News, among others.
According to the FTC’s complaint, between January and May 2009, hackers who gained administrative control of Twitter were able to view nonpublic user information, gain access to direct messages and protected tweets, and reset any user’s password and send authorized tweets from any user account.
According to the FTC’s complaint, Twitter was vulnerable to these attacks because it failed to take reasonable steps to prevent unauthorized administrative control of its system, including:
- Requiring employees to use hard-to-guess administrative passwords that are not used for other programs, websites, or networks
- Prohibiting employees from storing administrative passwords in plain text within their personal e-mail accounts
- Suspending or disabling administrative passwords after a reasonable number of unsuccessful login attempts
- Providing an administrative login webpage that is made known only to authorized persons and is separate from the login page for users
- Enforcing periodic changes of administrative passwords by, for example, setting them to expire every 90 days
- Restricting access to administrative controls to employees whose jobs required it; and
- Imposing other reasonable restrictions on administrative access, such as by restricting access to specified IP addresses.
Under the terms of the settlement, Twitter will be barred for 20 years from misleading consumers about the extent to which it maintains and protects the security, privacy, and confidentiality of nonpublic consumer information, including the measures it takes to prevent authorized access to information and honor the privacy choices made by consumers. The company also must establish and maintain a comprehensive information security program, which will be assessed by a third party every other year for 10 years.