It appears that the Twitter and YouTube accounts of US Central Command were hacked yesterday by folks sympathetic to Islamic terrorists. While that’s disturbing in and of itself, for us it raises an interesting issue about the use of social media for emergency alerts.
Many emergency responders and public safety agencies are using Twitter and Facebook, in addition to other tools such as Hyper-Reach, to send out emergency alerts. (Indeed, Hyper-Reach has social media integration to make it easier to send out alerts that way.)
And, because emergency notification providers such as Hyper-Reach understand that false emergency alert messages can create panic among the public and other potential disruptions, we know how important security is. So we have sophisticated functions to protect against hacking. In addition, there is a certain benefit to being less conspicuous than a Twitter or Facebook when it comes to avoiding a cyber attack.
But if US Central Command’s Twitter account can be hacked, so can yours. Which means that people who are following your Twitter feeds and see a false emergency alert may potentially be led astray and do something that is contrary to their interests or safety.
Obviously, good password management is important. And it is likely that Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other social media will continue to enhance their security. But this hack attack on US Central Command is a good cautionary tale to remind public safety agencies that use social media for emergency alerts, as well as other emergency alert services, that security is important and should be maintained for every system that is used to communicate to the public.