What to do if your social media accounts are hacked

If your Twitter feed is hacked, it isn’t likely to knock $160 billion off the Dow Jones. But it could still be very damaging to sales, recruitment or share price.

What will a hack look like?

You will know you have been hacked if unauthorised posts are sent out from your social media account. These might be for “spam” products like diet pills or Viagra. Or they might be designed to damage your reputation perhaps by endorsing competitors or vilifying your own products and brands. Or they might simply be mischievous. Alternatively a hack might involve a change in your social media profile: perhaps a new profile picture or a change to your description, again often with the aim damaging your business. Even if you have taken reasonable measures to stop your accounts from being hacked, they can still happen. So it is a good idea to have a plan in place, just in case. After all, if you are hacked then you will need to respond as rapidly as possible. So here is a simple 5-step plan for damage limitation after a social media hack.

Step 1. Regain control by resetting passwords

The first thing to do (or at least attempt) is to regain control of any hacked accounts. You will do that by changing the password on the account (ideally to something not quite so easy to hack!) If you can’t get access to the account, because the hackers have changed the password, then try resetting your password using the forgotten password link on the site. You should then get a message, sent to the email registered as belonging to the account’s administrator, which will allow you to reset the password. At the same time you should also change the password of the account administrator’s email address. This may have been hacked too and if it has then it will be all too easy for the hackers to gain control again.

If you can’t regain control

If the hackers have locked you out of your account and you can’t get back in, then you will need to contact the social platform directly. This may take a little time as there will be forms to fill in and proof to provide so it is important to start this process as soon as possible. All the big social media sites provide an easy way into this process:

  • Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/hacked
  • YouTube: support.google.com/youtube/answer/175276?hl=en (link to AutoRecovery at bottom of page)
  • LinkedIn: help.linkedin.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/1501/ft/eng (link to Contact Us at bottom of page)
  • Twitter: support.twitter.com/articles/185703-my-account-has-been-hacked (link to Contact Support at bottom of page)
  • Google+: support.google.com/mail/answer/50270?hl=en

Lock down content publishing if you can

If you can, it’s a good idea to lock down any publishing activity while you check the security of all your social media accounts. Some software providers such as Nexgate’s ProfileLock will do this automatically should they detect an unauthorised change to your profiles.

Step 2. Protect your other platforms

The next thing you need to do is to check all your other social media platforms and ensure they have not been hacked as well. If they are safe check that they have a secure password and that this is different from the passwords on your other social media sites.

Step 3. Get back to normal

Once you have control back you will want to get your social media accounts back to the state they were in before the hacking incident.

Delete unwanted content

You will need to delete any unwanted content such as tweets that have been sent out without your authorisation. This doesn’t guarantee the content will disappear completely and for ever. Other people may have seen it and saved it or shared it with other people. But you can at least limit the possibility of other people seeing being exposed to messages you don’t want them to see.

Check account settings

Back in control, you will also want to make sure there aren’t any nasty surprises waiting for you. Have any automated responses been tampered with? Does your profile or email signature contain new and unwanted links? Have any Twitter lists been tampered with? Do you have new some “friends” you weren’t expecting to see?

Step 4. Let people know

There is no point in hiding the fact that you have been hacked. If it is embarrassing they are bound to find out. It is far better to tell people what has happened and apologise for it.

Tell your audience

Post messages, e.g. tweets, to anyone following you apologising for any inconvenience or offence caused. It may be appropriate to pay to promote these messages if that option is available on the platform you are using. If you don’t it is highly likely that many people who follow your social media accounts won’t see your explanation. It may also be sensible to put a message upon your website and any other “static” content such as blogs and even social media profiles. Some companies have ready-made web pages that are pre-approved and can be published quickly in the event of an emergency. It is likely that you will want this page to be a template of some sort so that the precise content can be adapted to suit the nature of the crisis.

Tell your employees

Make sure you have a clear communication plan that is directed towards your employees. They may need reassurance that the damage won’t affect them; they will certainly need to know what to do and say if they are asked about the crisis by friends or peers.

Tell the media

It is also sensible to tell the media, who are likely to pick up on a crisis anyway. Of course if the breach is trivial then there may not be any reason to do this but if the breach is potentially damaging then you will want to make sure any relevant media have your version of events as soon as possible.

5. Review your security

Once things have settled down you will want to review your security to reduce the risk of anything similar happening again. You will of course cover off the basics: make sure that passwords are robust and that you have managed and limited access to your social media accounts. But there are a few other things you need to do as well.

Review any apps that have access

Review any applications that have access to your social media accounts and remove any that you don’t recognize. Apps may include measurement tools, media owner sites, or tools that link different social media platforms. For instance if you want to see the apps that have access to your Twitter profile you can find them at twitter.com/settings/applications. If in doubt it may be safest to delete all applications and then start adding apps to your account from scratch.

Check for viruses

Run a virus scan on any devices that have been used to access your social media accounts to ensure you haven’t picked up a virus or other malware. Don’t forget to check any mobile devices that may be used and if home computers are ever used to access your social media accounts then ask the relevant people to check these too.

Enable 2-factor authentication

Many social networks now offer “2-factor authentication”. This is a security system which requires a number sent to a device like a mobile phone as well as your password to get access. Generally this makes it very difficult for a hacker to break into your account. So if this hasn’t been set up on your social media accounts you should do so right away, unless you are using software such as Single Sign On software that makes this unnecessary.

Review your training

Most hacking events are the result of human error – clicking on a phishing URL or using weak passwords for instance. In order to guard against future risk, review the knowledge of anyone who has the ability to log on to your social media accounts, whether or not they ever do so. Do they understand the need for strong passwords, are they aware of the risks caused by cookies, do they always check which site they are going to when clicking on shortened URLs, are they aware of how they might get fooled in a phishing attach? If your staff are knowledgeable about these issues then the chance of a social media hack will be very much reduced. Any other tips? Please do let us know.

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