Shedding Light on the Dangers of Spreading Political Hacking

Recent events, such as the hacking of McDonald's twitter account, are bringing to light the dangers of political hacking.

by Jordan Graham, Boston Herald / March 17, 2017
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(TNS) -- McDonald’s blamed an “external source” for hacking into its corporate Twitter account to issue a tweet taunting President Trump yesterday — the latest instance of a popular new way to get attention, by hijacking high-profile sites.

“We’re seeing a greater number and a greater frequency of tweets, hacked tweets, being used to express political opinion,” said Rohit Deshpande, a marketing professor at Harvard Business School. “The strategy here is, ‘How can I make my position go viral?’ The old strategy is to say something that is blatantly provocative, but the new one is to hitchhike on a major brand.”

Yesterday, an unknown party got access to the official McDonald’s Corp. Twitter account, tweeting, “@realDonaldTrump You are actually a disgusting excuse of a President and we would love to have @Barack­Obama back, also you have tiny hands.”

The tweet remained up for at least 20 minutes before it was deleted, and at one point was pinned to the top of the McDonald’s Twitter page.

“Based on our investigation, we have determined that our Twitter account was hacked by an external source,” Terri Hickey, a spokeswoman for McDonald’s said in a statement. “We took swift action to secure it, and we apologize this tweet was sent through our corporate McDonald’s account.”

Jacob Groshek, a social media professor at Boston University, said it is too early to say if this is a one-off hack or a larger attack.

“If we start to see this happening more frequently on more and more accounts, then we would start to think this is a coordinated attack,” Groshek said.

Wednesday, accounts including those belonging to the BBC, Forbes, Amnesty International and tennis star Boris Becker were hacked, posting tweets in support of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, echoing Erdogan’s recent comments comparing German and Dutch politicians to Nazis. Twitter said that series of hacks was the result of a compromised third-party app, which has had its access removed. There is no indication the two events are connected.

Still, there are often cheap and easy ways to secure social media accounts. A tool called two-factor authentication, which requires not only a password but also a code sent to a cellphone or email address to login, would prevent a lot of accounts from being hacked, said Michael Sulmeyer, director of the Cyber Security Project at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center. Twitter, Google and many other popular services offer two-factor authentication.

“There’s usually a free way to protect this from happening,” Sulmeyer said. “It’s not practicing modest standards is what gets you into a problem, this is not about spending $4 million on a solution.”

Trump did not respond to the tweet, but many users did. Trump fans called for a boycott until the company apologizes — which it did — while Trump critics encouraged people to patronize Micky D’s.

Trump and McDonald’s have a long history, including a 2002 television ad in which he gushes over a burger for a dollar to McDonald’s character Grimace. Stephen Easterbrook, McDonald’s chief executive, has praised a number of Trump’s moves, such as his first choice for labor secretary, fellow fast food executive Andrew Puzder. Puzder eventually withdrew his nomination. Trump is also an aficionado of fast food, calling it consistent, clean and even good.

©2017 the Boston Herald Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.