Burger King, Jeep Tweet-Hacks Show It’s Time For A Social Kill Switch

Written by Frank Hayes
February 20th, 2013

The Twitter takedown of Burger King (NYSE:BKW) on Monday (Feb. 18), followed by an almost identical attack on Jeep’s Twitter account the next day, underlines a basic problem with social media: It’s almost never under a retailer’s control. It’s not just that interacting online with customers is inherently unpredictable. The key social media sites themselves—Twitter, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) and others—are always under someone else’s control, and a chain is just another user.

That means when a retailer’s social media presence is under attack, the difference between being down for more than an hour (like Burger King) or just 10 minutes (like Jeep) can be a matter of setting up the equivalent of a kill switch—and that’s going to take some work.

It’s still not clear exactly how either site was taken over by anonymous hackers—whether the attackers got in through an actual breach in Twitter or just managed to acquire passwords to the Burger King and Jeep accounts. (That may become clearer over the next few weeks because, if it is an actual Twitter breach, we can expect to see a stream of copycat attacks.)

In Burger King’s case, after its Twitter page was replaced with one featuring McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD) branding and the account tweeted that the chain had been sold to McDonald’s, it took more than an hour for Burger King to notice, contact Twitter and disable the account, before resetting passwords and restoring the site.

The following day, Jeep’s Twitter page was replaced with Cadillac branding (including a Cadillac painted with a McDonald’s logo, according to some reports) and tweets claiming Jeep had been sold to General Motors’ (NYSE:GM) Cadillac division. But the Jeep takeover only lasted 10 minutes before it was cut off.

How was Jeep able to cut off the attackers so fast? “According to the folks at Twitter, they were able to assist us more quickly because they were better prepared as a result of the previous day’s attack on Burger King’s account,” said Jeep Spokesperson Ed Garsten. “It also was vital that our social media agency was quick to detect the issue and respond to it immediately.”

In other words, Jeep got lucky because it was second in line. That will also help any retailers hit by a similar Twitter attack in the next few days.

Then things will go back to normal, Twitter will no longer be on high alert and the usual impossible-to-contact-anyone situation will return—until the next round.

Part of the problem is with how retailers think about social media.


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