Will Twitter attack drive off IT interest?

Analysts warn that more attacks could raise a warning flag for Twitter's enterprise users

This week's Twitter hack may not immediately drive corporate executives away from the microblogging site, but it may raising some early warning signs.

A hacker exploited a bug in the Twitter site Tuesday, causing havoc on the social network, creating a wild buzz on the blogosphere and prompting a flood of negative headlines around the globe.

The exploit, described by some as a " webtastrophe ," caused messages, and even porn, to pop up on users' screens. Twitter was fairly quick on the draw, though, and shut down the attack in a couple of hours.

Nonetheless, the long list of victims ranged from individual users to the official Twitter feed of the White House, prompting questions about how it will affect the views of the droves of corporate executives who've either been considering diving into the Twitterverse or who already have made the plunge.

Companies like online retailer Zappos.com , Dell and JetBlue have long taken advantage of the growing number of Twitter users by tweeting about their company culture, sales and promotions.

And these companies are far from alone. Industry analysts say enterprises are consistently being drawn to sites like Twitter and Facebook and are setting up their own social networking teams.

If such widely-publicized attacks continue, though, IT executives may start looking for a more secure alternative, analysts said.

"I think this was a lesson learned and a warning," said Brad Shimmin, an analyst at Current Analysis. "Social networks have garnered so much of the traffic over the Internet, but the responsibility these companies have isn't always reflected in the level of security and privacy they've afforded their users. Compared to other larger sites, I don't think Twitter is falling down entirely, but they do need to take this a little more seriously and handle it better than they did yesterday."

While Shimmin was surprised that a site like Twitter could still be knocked for a loop via such an exploit, he said what may have caught some users' attention is how slow Twitter was in giving users information about it.

"Everyone had figured it out before Twitter issued its announcement," said Shimmin. "Customers shouldn't have to look to third parties to understand when there's a problem with something like Twitter. They obviously need to do a better job of anticipating and responding to these sorts of exploits. They need to behave a little bit more like an enterprise player would."

Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group, said despite Twitter's troubles this week, the social network should weather this storm as long as there isn't another one any time soon.

"This is going to, or at least should, make people in sensitive positions think twice about how much they rely on Twitter," Olds said. "I think a bit of caution is called for, but I don't think we'll see anyone significantly change their habits over this incident. Now, if there are more exploits in the near future -- enough to form a pattern in users' minds -- then that would spell trouble for Twitter."

Rob Enderle, an analyst at Enderle Group, noted that as long as people are avidly using Twitter, many company executives will put up with random exploits to continue taking advantage of all the eyes their tweets could attract.

However, if Twitter continues to get hit by attacks, and another strong microblogging site emerges, that could spell trouble.

"It really depends on how often this happens but as long as the people firms want to talk to are on Twitter, companies and organizations will find ways to mitigate the risk and continue to use the tool," added Enderle. "If the users look like they are moving, though, companies will follow very quickly."

Like Shimmin, Enderle said Twitter needs to formulate a better crisis response plan and team.

"What this event showcases is that Twitter hasn't yet developed a good crisis management process and that, until they do, an event like this could still take them out, along with a lot of customers," said Enderle. "Until that is fixed, many companies may choose not to."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin , or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com .

Read more about cybercrime and hacking in Computerworld's Cybercrime and Hacking Topic Center.

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Sharon Gaudin

Computerworld (US)
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