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Managing the Security of Social Media Passwords

2013 has certainly been the year of “social media password” challenges. And although this is amusing to watch and read about from the outside looking in, it can cost you your job if it happens to your company. Two significant incidents happened this year, one at HMV and one at Burger King, each making it clear why carefully managing your passwords is a huge deal.

HMV is a British entertainment retail company located in the United Kingdom. In January, employees fired by HMV decided to get even by live tweeting their “mass execution” on the company’s official Twitter account, which at the time, had almost 64,000 followers. According to the Independent, HMV attempted to delete the posts from the @hmvtweets account, but it was too late. The tweets had already been copied on screen shots and widely distributed across the social web via retweets and blog posts.

One rogue employee tweeted: “We’re tweeting live from HR where we’re all being fired! Exciting!!” Another tweet, apparently from an iPhone, reported “60 of us being fired at once.” A subsequent posting read: “Just overheard our Marketing Director (he’s staying, folks) ask ‘How do I shut down Twitter?’” The fiasco lasted about 20 minutes before the company removed the tweets, which began trending with the hashtag, #HMVXFactorFiring. Later on, more tweets appeared, apparently from a different member of HMV personnel, referring to the earlier comments.

In this situation, several HMV employees had access to post directly to the brand’s social media channel. Unfortunately, they didn’t have a content governance model to prevent this from happening.

In Burger King’s case, they faced an entirely different challenge.

In February, the Huffington Post reported that someone apparently hacked Burger King’s Twitter account and changed its photo to the McDonald’s logo and name to “McDonalds.” During a series of tweets rife with poor grammar, the hacker claimed Burger King was sold to McDonald’s and then posted a host of other raunchy messages. The account’s bio was also changed to:

  • “Just got sold to McDonalds because the whopper flopped =[ FREDOM IS FAILURE.”

The perpetrator referenced several Internet hacker groups, including LulzSec, Anonymous, and DFNTSC. About an hour after the unruly tweets began, the fast food chain’s Twitter account was suspended. It was reported that Burger King reached out to Twitter to have the account frozen.

What happened to Burger King, and then a day later to Jeep, is every marketer’s nightmare. Bu they weren’t alone. Other prominent accounts have fallen victim to hacking, including those for NBC News, USA Today, Donald J. Trump, the Westboro Baptist Church, and even the “hacktivist” group Anonymous.

So what does this mean for you?

These specific situations should raise question marks about the security of your social media passwords and the ease of gaining access to your branded accounts. The good news is that Twitter launched a new login verification feature in May 2013. The new login verification levels-up the account security, preventing the possibility of email phishing schemes, as well as breaching of passwords. With the login verification enabled, your existing applications continue to work without disruption.

Both Twitter and Facebook have begun introducing a number of paid advertising options, raising the stakes for advertisers. Brands that pay to advertise on Twitter are assigned a sales representative to help them manage their accounts, but they are not given any more layers of security than those for a typical user.

One way to minimize your risk is to deploy the content workflows mentioned previously. Doing so provides two layers of security. If you have invested in a content publishing platform, users are given login credentials to the system, not the social network itself. Second, if you build your workflows correctly, content has to go through a series of approvals before it becomes public.

Of course, if your community manager is terminated for some reason, that’s a completely different story. In that case, you need to ensure that you are in constant communication with Human Resources. You might even consider them to be a member of the CoE.

You should also look into investing in password management software. This type of software can help you create unhackable passwords, secure them, and log in to your accounts automatically without having to memorize them or write them down. Every single day in the media, we hear of a large number of accounts being hacked, from online banking to social media and email accounts. Password management software can help you avoid the risk of people stealing your login info, accessing your accounts, and posting objectionable content. Not only is this bad for your brand but if hackers can get into your Twitter account, what’s stopping them from accessing your work email account or bank information?

The way password software works is simple. You basically secure your login information into a platform and automatically log in to any of your accounts through the software or a browser button add-on. With a portable version of your software installed on a USB drive, you can use it to view and log in to your accounts on other computers. Many of these platforms also provide sync-able versions for smartphones.

One of the reasons accounts are easily hacked is that many people have a hard time remembering their passwords, so they use common words like their last name, family name, kid’s date of birth, their own date of birth, Social Security numbers, or sometimes they even use “password” as their password. To escalate the problem, they might also use the same password for numerous accounts. Password software can help you create complex passwords, store them in a database for you and use them to log you in to your accounts quickly and easily. All passwords are encrypted and locked behind a single master password that only you know.

Beyond the security benefits of using this type of software, it also helps you stay organized by storing all of you password details in one, secure place. Many applications also provide mobile tools so that you can take your secure passwords with you, especially if you are mobile worker or use multiple computers.

Here are some basic criteria you can use when you are evaluating password management software:

  • Basic management: The best password software platforms can automatically create accounts as you log in to websites and automatically log you into a group of your favorite accounts simultaneously. Other tools include auto-filling long forms and templates for popular account types.
  • Security: Because password software can store your login information and account numbers all in one place, security is critical in this situation. The best applications encrypt your files using 256-bit (or higher) encryption protocols, generate complex passwords, and protect you from keylogging and phishing attempts. Keylogging is the practice of using a software program to record all keystrokes on a computer keyboard. Phishing is a scam to try and obtain financial or other confidential information by sending an e-mail that looks as if it is from a legitimate company, usually a bank, but contains a link to a fake website that looks just like the real one.
  • Mobile capabilities: Many employees use smartphones and tablets to log in to their online and social media accounts. Some password programs have mobile versions of their software that operate independently, or in conjunction with the PC or Mac.

Most password management tools offer many of the same features. Useful features to look out for include

  • Centralized deployment where one administrator has complete control over accessibility to specific social media channels such as a blog, Twitter or Facebook accounts, and for how long. Easy to update when someone joins the company, leaves the company, or is assigned to a new role.
  • Shared password data on a person-by-person basis or for teams, departments, or regions within a company.
  • Options to hide a password from an employee while still allowing access to a brand’s social media channels via auto-fill functions.
  • Generation of secure, unhackable passwords and an option to replace old passwords with unique, randomly generated ones.
  • Password data stored and encrypted online, allowing secure access to passwords when on the go via mobile devices.
  • One-time passwords are useful if using an untrusted shared computer.
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