Scams, Fake News, Security Threats Emerge Amid Flight 93, 9/11 Commemorations

Jay Decenella, IT audit expert
September 10, 2011 /

Hackers have penetrated the Twitter account of NBC News and posted messages alleging that there has been a terrorist attack at Ground Zero in New York, amid ubiquitous commemorations of the 9/11 attack and anniversary events remembering the Flight 93 heroes.

NBCNews’s Digital Officer Vivian Schiller confirmed in a Twitter post that the news agency’s official account has been hacked, and requested the followers to ignore its Tweets while it is working with Twitter to resolve the issue.

Meanwhile, David Harley, a senior research fellow at security firm ESET, warned of emerging scam messages.

“We know that nothing is sacred to scammers as I ruefully pointed out a couple of years ago, and this [9/11] anniversary is,” he said.

The attack comes as different parts of USA are observing the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attack. In Chicago, 200 firefighters honor the 9/11 victims in New York City with President Barack Obama, along with former president George Bush, while security is held tight in Lower Manhattan.

In Pennsylvania, the 40 passengers and crew who struggled to halt the hijackers aboard Flight 93, which crashed into a field in rural Pennsylvania on September 11, never reaching its target, were honored on Saturday at the US national park for their heroism.

On the other hand, the fake messages posted by NBCNews hackers claimed that Flight 4782 has been hijacked and another plane crashed into the site where the Twin Towers collapsed a decade ago.

Schiller, on behalf of NBCNews, apologized “for the scare that could have been caused by a such a reckless and irresponsible act.”

Investigations pointed to a group called Script Kiddies to be responsible for the hack, which is the same group that previously breached and defaced Pfizer’s Facebook page and broke into the Fox News Politics Twitter account and posted a fake announcement about the death of Barack Obama.

Graham Cluley, technology consultant at security firm Sophos, said: “Of course it’s very serious when such a popular Twitter account has its security breached. In theory, malicious hackers could have posted a link to malware or a phishing site – rather than what appears to be sick fake news headlines about a terrorist atrocity at such a sensitive time, with the 9/11 anniversary.”

It remains vague whether NBCNews’s Twitter password was phished, whether it was cracked through a dictionary attack or spyware, or whether the persons who run the NBCNews account made the mistake of using the same password on multiple websites, Cluley added.

Twitter has now suspended the @NBCNews account to stop other users from retweeting the fake news that could start a scare.

“I, for one, would like to see Twitter and other social media sites offer an additional level of authentication for those who want to better defend their accounts. I fear that, unless that happens, we will continue to see high profile accounts hacked and brands damaged as hackers run rings around them,” Cluley said.


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