Social Media Crises Has Many Points of Failure


by Alan Webber, Jeremiah Owyang, Altimeter Group Analysts.

Yesterday’s Burger King brandjacking was an important reminder to brands and their agency and software partners about how vulnerable social media accounts are.  These forms of attacks are increasing in frequency, such as Jeep’s recent twitter hack. Surprisingly, Altimeter Group’s research has found from analyzing 50 crises that 76% of crises could have been minimized or avoided had companies been prepared internally –external hacks are not the most common threats.  While the press and media was quick to jump to conclusions that the Burger King account was “hacked” (with various daunting fingers pointing at McDonald’s and Anonymous) most threats come from inside –not external forces.

Multiple Points of Failure:
Below, we’ve compiled a list of potential points of failure, that all companies must prepare for. Anyone of these alone or combined could bring down the whole house of social cards.

  1. Management: Lack of password control. Burger King didn’t know who had access to the account or to the passwords. It is possible the same password was used across multiple accounts. Passwords need to be changed on a periodic basis.
  2. Breach: Organized hackers can comprise any system. An organized hacker can find multiple methods of intrusion including passwords, social engineering, software, or apps.
  3. Breach: Rogue employees or agency members (current or former). Without knowing who had access to the passwords, it is impossible to know if the account truly was hacked or if it was an a rogue employee, either current or former.  Many social software systems are not tied to Active Directory or LDAP systems.
  4. Training and education: Lack of skills inside the organization. It isn’t clear that BK had the internal skills to actually manage the account, so they became dependent on an external firm. BK was highly dependent on an external agency to actually manage and control their twitter account.
  5. Software: Security of Social Media Management System Software. Though it isn’t clear, it is possible that the SMMS system employed by BK could have been hacked. This could have led to other failures in other social media systems.
  6. Software: Twitter and Facebook Apps.  A number of apps on the Twitter and Facebook platform may have multiple forms of data access, which could yield information that could yield passwords, API access, or sensitive information.
  7. Software:  Twitter and Social Networks susceptible.  Twitter and Facebook themselves are targets from multiple intruders seeking to compromise systems. Recently, Twitter is under target from Chinese hackers as was Facebook, last week.
  8. Security: Network Intrusion. General network or firewall intrusion through online, network infiltration at corporate, mobile phone, agency, or even at Twitter corp.

Conclusion: Action Steps for All Brands and Agencies
Companies must analyze multiple points of failure and develop safeguards at each of the above listed steps.  Start by sharing this checklist with internal legal risk and compliance teams, and operational social media teams, including agencies.  Develop a process to test these at a regular basis and conduct social media fire drills with all constituents.

Additional Resources:

Update: Minutes after posting this, Jeep was also hacked, and account is back to normal. Burger King and Jeep show brandly love.

Discussion: What other points of risk are not listed above?  We’d love to hear your comments and additional points.

12 Replies to “Social Media Crises Has Many Points of Failure”

  1. I think the initial point of failure is that they failed to “delight their customers” — giving them a reason to attack/hack them. Happy customers would protect the brand, not damage it.

  2. Thanks for this. The only point missing for me is, what to do if you get hacked or your security is compromised? Have a list ready of how to contact Facebook, Twitter, etc. to suspend your account as soon as possible.

  3. Here are a few things we recommend to our clients:

    1. Master Account – We recommend using some sort of third party software for most of the user’s access. Something like Hootsuite with a Master Account that grants access and removes it. This account is wholly owned by the company. In most cases, it is the only one that has the actual password, in addition to your dev team for API management needs.

    2. Bi-Monthly Password Changes – All social accounts’ passwords should change every other month. Keep the passwords in an access-controlled or password protected wiki. Along with this, maintain an internal email list. A week before password change time, send an email to all on the wiki/email list and let them know that passwords will change on X date. When passwords are changed, you should also confirm who has access at that time.

    3. Random Password Generation – Don’t use an easy to remember password. Lean on random password generators to create difficult passwords.

    4. Off-board instructions for ex-employees. Work with IT to make sure that the social team is one part of the off-boarding process of exiting employees.

    5. App Management – De-authorize all apps at the same time that passwords are changed.

  4. You’ve mentioned mobile phones which I think are quite pertinent to this topic. Myself and probably many other Community managers have Facebook Page Manager and Twitter apps installed on personal mobiles. If the mobile gets stolen (a frequent occurrence here in South Africa) then there is a security breach.

    My solution so far to this issue is to make use of remote device management tools for my Android phones so I can wipe all user data from the phone in the case of theft or loss.

  5. Really nice article Jeremiah. I completely agree with the point that most threats come from inside and not external forces and shockingly most of the companies still ignore it.

    However a bigger solution I felt missing in the article was ‘Single Sign On’ service. As my company(SmartSignin) provides SSO I see this situation on everyday basis and when I read article like yours I kick myself thinking why can’t I shout and tell the whole world about SSO and how it will help them with all these problems at one go.

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