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The Hackers Have It Their Way

Posted At: February 25, 2013 3:02 P.M.
by Haley Clemons

It makes a difference. The little blue check mark placed securely next to the organization’s name on Twitter adds both validity and credibility to the account owner’s words. In 140 characters or less, a company or brand can entice customers, create loyalty or, when things get ugly, cause a PR meltdown. Such was the case of corporate giants Burger King and Jeep, when they were the victims of Twitter “hack attacks.” Creating confusion for their loyal patrons, the mega brands set out to correct the crisis.

But first, what can be done to prevent these attacks before they happen? The Chicago Sun-Times commented on the issue stating, “Burger King’s and Jeep’s Twitter accounts were hacked this week, a reminder to businesses that it’s important to set up iron-clad tech security and put someone in charge of changing passwords frequently, experts say.”

Many companies are starting to see the importance of hiring a social media manager who monitors accounts religiously. According to Suzanne Lucas of, “Your company may not want to have a Twitter account, a Facebook page, or write a blog. But that doesn’t mean you can just ignore what’s being said on those sites. Somebody needs to be responsible for being aware of and responding to things on the Internet.” But sometimes, even with those positions in place, things can go awry.

On a quiet Monday morning, the unsuspecting burger giant was met with horror as it discovered that its profile images had been changed to that of its biggest competitor, McDonalds. The newly dressed account made claims of Burger King being sold to McDonalds and greeted its visitors with a Twitter feed full of racial slurs.

Twitter responded to the fast-food felony by posting a blog about Internet security and suspending Burger King’s official account. The feed was silent for hours as Burger King’s PR team cooked up a plan. Late Monday night, the account was in the right hands, but Twitter was buzzing about the brand. Other fast-food companies were quick to comment.

KFC responded to the attacks tweeting, “At KFC, we know more than a few secrets (recipes, mostly), but we know nothing about who hacked ‪@BurgerKing. ‪#InnocentColonel.” Wendy’s lightened the mood replying to a tweet with, “We have an alibi.”

McDonalds tweeted, “We empathize with our ‪@BurgerKing counterparts. Rest assured, we had nothing to do with the hacking.” Although it may seem logical to first point a finger at Ronald McDonald, it was clear that someone outside the fast-food industry carried out the attack. This possibility became even more apparent with the hacker’s next prey, as he decided to take the wheel behind another social media wreck.

Tuesday, Jeep suffered the same fate. The official Twitter account of Jeep was suddenly a page for Cadillac. John Letzing of the Wall Street Journal wrote, “Users of the site saw Jeep’s account suddenly announce the firm had been ‘sold to Cadillac,’ and point to an image of an imaginary Jeep “CEO” appearing to smoke drugs out of a light bulb.”

After the issue was repaired, Jeep tweeted, “‪@BurgerKing Thanks BK. Let us know if you want to grab a burger and swap stories – we’ll drive.” Throughout the attacks, both PR teams stayed on their game.

On Feb. 1, weeks before the attacks, Twitter released a blog post saying, “This week, we detected unusual access patterns that led to us identifying unauthorized access attempts to Twitter user data . . . However, our investigation has thus far indicated that the attackers may have had access to limited user information – usernames, email addresses, session tokens and encrypted/salted versions of passwords – for approximately 250,000 users.”

To be on the safe side, everyone should change their passwords on a regular basis, keep information private and update all browsers to the latest versions. Taking all of these steps against hacking may improve a company’s chance of maintaining social media account control.

The irony of the situation is that although the attacks were meant to damage reputations, they actually improved them. According to, Burger King’s followers soared from 77,000 to 110,000 after the hacking. It’s comforting to know that when situations like these arise, responding quickly and adding a little humor can make all the difference.

For tips to improve your Internet safety, read PR Daily’s new blog on protecting social media accounts

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