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Published: Wednesday, 2/20/2013

Jeep’s Twitter account, icon fall prey to hackers

Chrysler is 2nd high-profile firm attacked in 2 days

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
The Twitter page of Jeep was altered on Tuesday by hackers who claimed the brand was sold to Cadillac. Jeep regained control of its social media account. The Twitter page of Jeep was altered on Tuesday by hackers who claimed the brand was sold to Cadillac. Jeep regained control of its social media account.
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Jeep’s Twitter account was briefly taken over by hackers on Tuesday afternoon, making it the second high-profile brand to fall victim to Internet pranksters in as many days.

Starting about 1:30 p.m., someone began posting a string of tweets from Jeep’s official verified Twitter account that were at times profane, mostly nonsensical, and occasionally referring to Cadillac.

“The official Twitter handle for the Jeep — Just Empty Every Pocket. Sold to Cadillac ... In a hood near you!” the company’s altered tagline read. Additionally, Jeep's icon was changed to the Cadillac logo.

Cadillac later tweeted from its official account that it had nothing to do with the Jeep takeover.

Chrysler Group spokesman Ed Garsten said the social media agency that operates the Jeep account noticed the breach right away and contacted Twitter, which helped the automaker regain control.

The unauthorized tweets stopped shortly after they started, but remained visible for about 90 minutes.

“It’s a bit of a process, so they’ve got to go in and piecemeal change out these things and clean it up,” Mr. Garsten said.

By 3 p.m., the offending tweets were gone and Jeep had restored its images and biography.

The episode was very similar to what happened to Burger King on Monday afternoon. Someone took over the fast-food company’s official Twitter account, posting that Burger King had been sold to rival McDonald’s and changing the account’s icon to the McDonald’s logo.

Among the unauthorized tweets were images of someone injecting themselves with a syringe and tweets about drug use.

Burger King’s account was eventually suspended by Twitter at the company’s request. It resumed tweeting under company control on Monday night.

Neither company immediately pointed fingers at suspected responsible parties.

“It happened, the situation’s been resolved, and we’ll just do our best to strengthen our security to prevent it happening again,” Mr. Garsten said.

Allen Mireles, a Toledo social media consultant and vice president with Chicago public relations firm Arment Dietrich, said more and more organizations are realizing they need to beef up their protection from cyberattack, which can come from nearly anywhere.

“It’s happening across the board with Web sites,” she said. “You have large and small entities being hacked. You have people’s social network profiles being hacked. And the perpetrator can be anybody from a bored 14-year-old genius sitting in his parent’s basement to people in other countries.”

It’s such a common threat, Ms. Mireles said, that her firm offers crisis planning and management related specifically to social media.

“In the digital age, you don’t know what’s going to go wrong when, and you have to be able to react,” she said.

MTV’s official Twitter account also appeared to have been hacked on Tuesday, but later MTV tweeted that it had been a hoax meant to drum up publicity.

Jacqueline Layng, a communications professor at the University of Toledo, wondered if other companies might take that route, muddying the waters about what is a cyberattack and what amounts to guerrilla marketing.

“I definitely think [companies] have to be concerned in controlling their image, because Twitter is so powerful these days,” she said. “But at the same time, is it a marketing ploy that they’re going to start using?”

The damages of a legitimate Twitter hacking similar to what happened to Jeep or Burger King are debatable. Experts say there’s likely little to no data that could be gained by taking control of a Twitter account — though if hackers get one password, it’s possible they could get others and gain control of other, more critical accounts.

But the tweets themselves aren’t likely to have a lasting effect on most people, Ms. Mireles said.

“As far as Twitter goes, you can probably create a lot of damage to a brand’s image, but as long as people understand it was a result of hacking, they’re willing to forgive. It’s far more damaging to brands when they misstep in social media, or an employee tweets out something offensive.”

Chrysler is familiar with that happening, too. In 2011, someone with access to one of Chrysler’s official Twitter accounts tweeted a comment about Detroit residents’ alleged inability to drive, accompanied by a nasty expletive.

In response, Chrysler issued a statement that the tweet had come from an employee of its social media agency and that the person was later terminated. Chrysler also said it wouldn’t renew its contract with that agency.

On Tuesday, Mr. Garsten had a pragmatic outlook on the whole hacking ordeal.

"Anyone in social media knows that can happen, so it happens,” Mr. Garsten said. “What can you do?”

The @Jeep account later tweeted “Hacking: Definitely not a #Jeep thing. We’re back in the driver’s seat!”

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: tlinkhorn@theblade.com, or 419-724-6134.



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