It's hard to believe there was a time when cyberattacks weren't a part of the daily news, as now, there seems to be a new story every day. Reports about the United States Central Command's Twitter being compromised - allegedly by ISIS militants - is no exception, and the situation has caused fear and uncertainty. However, is a Twitter hack a huge cause for concern?
While cybersecurity used to be considered just a backup tactic, it is now considered an absolute necessity for a company using any sort of technology, thanks to a number of high-profile breaches that occurred last year involving Sony Entertainment, Home Depot and Target. Basics such as email encryption are now a standard implement, and companies are encouraged to look for guidance from secure email providers.
When the public hears about a Twitter account being hacked - especially one related to the U.S. government - the concern can be overblown. Is such an incident really that big of a deal?
What happened to the Twitter account?
The U.S. military Central Command's account was compromised on Jan. 12 by an unknown source, according to The Washington Post. The Obama administration is investigating the incident, but it's uncertain whether the account was hacked by ISIS itself, sympathizers or pranksters.
Whoever it was changed the Central Command's Twitter background and profile picture to images of an Islamic militant and the phrases "CyberCaliphate" and "i love you isis." The first tweet the hackers released read "AMERICAN SOLDIERS, WE ARE COMING, WATCH YOUR BACK."
The Central Command's YouTube page was also hacked and littered with the same images, but was taken down promptly due to violations of the website's guidelines. The hackers additionally posted images of spreadsheets with the home addresses and contact information of U.S. Army generals and associates, as well as images that were allegedly maps and plans belonging to the U.S. military.
Wired reported that The Pentagon confirmed the information to be authentic, but not classified. The source added that the information did not come from the government, but from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Despite the alarming messages and striking images, Central Command stated that its office has hardly been affected by the breach. The Washington Post reported that none of the organization's networks were compromised and there was no operational impact.
What's to fear about the hack?
Despite the alarm that the Twitter hack might have caused, many reports have assured there is hardly anything to be concerned about.
"Let's remember this is a social media account," Peter Singer, a strategist and analyst with the New American Foundation in Washington, told The Washington Post. "This is not a military command and control network. This is not a network that moves classified or even non-classified internal information back and forth. Essentially what [hackers] did is for several minutes take control of the megaphone."
This wouldn't be the first time ISIS has been involved with Twitter. Last year, Twitter deleted an account that was posting videos of a journalist and aid workers being beheaded in the Middle East, according to Wired. In response, ISIS threatened Twitter. But any hacks or threats made to Twitter are deemed to not be very harmful overall.
"The hacking might be a matter of concern if Centcom's Twitter and YouTube accounts were somehow linked to its more operational servers. But this is extremely unlikely," Fred Kaplan, author of "The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War and 1959: The Year Everything Changed" said on Slate. "Ordinary people don't link their Twitter or Facebook pages to, say, their bank accounts or credit card numbers; if they do, they're idiots. Some military commands could be more careful in their wanderings through cyberspace, but they're not idiots."
Why cybersecurity is still important
However, Kaplan went on to discuss how the military has various "sensitive but unclassified" sites that can reveal plans and military operations. The fact that some information got out, such as the maps and spreadsheets, most likely means someone within Central Command was careless - whether he or she accidentally installed malware or fell for a phishing email.
Although the Twitter hack might not be harmful, per se, carelessness about passwords and encryption can lead to bigger issues than just the compromise of a social media account. Cybersecurity practices are just beginning to be taken seriously within the business world, but only because the U.S. has watched companies suffer from a lack of secure technology.
Not only is information at risk of being compromised, but there is a great deal of money lost when a cyberattack takes place. No business is safe anymore, and concepts such as the Internet of Things have made enterprises even more vulnerable. Organizations must be sure to implement cybersecurity within their offices to protect themselves and their information from being compromised. If the U.S. military's Twitter account can be hacked, a smaller venture's information and accounts are also at risk.