It’s always interesting to me when I check out a new Twitter application, it always seems to ask you to “verify” your account or ask you to pass your Twitter user name/password to their application. This of course is done without any protections or any way of knowing what happens to your account information on the other end.
Take for example a recent find called Twellow which is basically a big directory of Twitter users (like the yellow pages). Twellow has some neat features like searching for other Twitter users by keywords and interests. Twellow like many of these types of Twitter applications work by scraping public timelines to populate their site with your information. Twellow asks you to “claim” your profile by putting in your Twitter password. This is where it gets interesting…
To the unsuspecting user it’s tempting to just give your credentials away to every website that asks for it. Twellow is a good looking, legitimate website right? Did you stop to think what could happen to your login credentials? Can you really trust that they don’t record your credentials? The disclaimer says they don’t use your password for anything…you trust everyone right?
What’s your Twitterank?
If you are a heavy Twitter user you may remember the Twitterank fiasco about a month ago. Like many people on Twitter just hearing of a website that will calculate your “rank” on Twitter sounded like a cool idea. No harm in this right? Rumors quickly spread on Twitter and in the blogosphere that Twitterank was a phishing site and that the developer was harvesting Twitter accounts. It ended up that this was most likely a legitimate application…BUT…why do you trust it? Why as social media users do we blatantly trust every Twitter or social media developer out there? No offense to the developer of Twitterank but there are way too many of these sites out there that ask for your account information. A real Twitter phishing site is easy to do using these same tactics. All you need is a legitimate looking website that preys on human weakness…we all want more followers and more rankage, right? For example, if you want to see a spoof Twitter phishing site, check out Twitter Phisher done by the fine folks over at Hak5 (be sure to view source in your browser for some extra lolz).
What’s the fix?
First, social media users need more education. Seriously, don’t just give your credentials away to anyone that asks for it (this actually applies to everything in life). Is your Twitter ranking really that important?
If you did give your credentials away, hopefully you used a different and unique password for that particular account. That way, if your account did get compromised then only one account is compromised, not your entire portfolio of accounts. How do you manage multiple passwords? Give a password manager like 1password or KeePass a try to create and manage unique passwords for each of your social media accounts.
Secondly, social media websites like Twitter need to use better forms of authentication. How about something similar to what FriendFeed is doing by issuing users a “remote key” for all third-party interactions with your account. Of course this isn’t perfect but it’s a step in the right direction. I applaud FriendFeed for having the remote key functionality a required part of the API. BTW, Twitter has been talking about using nifty solutions like OAuth, so do it already @Twitter! HTTP Basic Authentication just doesn’t cut it.
Authentication of user credentials and social media is a big problem…(actually verifying who you say you are is a another topic altogether). What authentication solutions for social media do you think should be adopted?