Monday, August 17, 2009

Twitter/Facebook Defend Against Cyber Attacks

Recently, mega-popular social networking sites Twitter and Facebook were victims of denial-of-service attacks that crippled their networks and the site inoperable for hours.

No lives were lost. No properties were damaged. No animals were harmed in the filming of this episode. But the cyber attacks represent a crisis to those web sites. While hackers hardly affected national security with the attack, such crises damages reputation of online companies that are entrusted with security of information.

Overall, both sites handled the crisis well. Both were able to maintain communication with their users. Twitter maintains a separate status blog to keep users informed of site downtimes due to maintenance, which certainly came in handy during the attack (and a second barrage just days later). Facebook assured its users -- though traditional media and tech blogs -- that no private information was compromised. While their messages traveled via media quickly, I wonder why neither site opted to send an email blast to its users regarding the outage? If this is a symptom of the attack itself, then both sites need to consider use of additional channels behind the scenes for such crises.

Eventually, both sites resumed normal operations. The critical response to any crisis, though, is: how will the organization prevent this from happening again? Both took a unique approach. Twitter and Facebook announced that they were joining forces with Google to investigate origins of the attacks and build preventive measures moving forward. In some respects, each of these sites competes for ad dollars and/or visitors. However, they all recognize that cyber attacks are a threat to each of them, so it is in their collective interest to work together. Such a strong union works is a symbolic assurance to consumers, and sends a calming message that should put their fears at rest.