Was the Hacker Outfoxed by a Honey Pot?

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2012-05-09 Print this article Print

So if the breach wasn't made by Anonymous, who did it? Right now, nobody knows, or if they know, they're not saying. My guess is that it was a wannabe hacker just trying to establish street cred, not someone who is actually part of the Anonymous group.

However, the list clearly is associated with Twitter in some way, if only because the company has said that some of the names are accounts that have been suspended for spamming. This would indicate that Twitter is involved in producing the list, unless some hacker or group somewhere€”perhaps Anonymous, perhaps not€”is keeping track of all of the phony IDs people used to send spam, which seems unlikely.

What one security expert who insists on remaining anonymous (there's that word again) tells me is that this may in fact be a sting put in place by Twitter to attract people who are trying to break in to the system and decoy them off into a form of Neverland that the industry calls a "honey pot." The idea behind a honey pot is to create a place on a Website that seems real enough to hackers that they think they've broken into the real thing. There is just enough seemingly real information in the phony honey pot to convince whoever broke in that this is the real site.

Once the Bad Guys are convinced the site is real, they go about downloading what on first look appears to be real information. Meanwhile, the activity is being monitored so security personnel can figure out who is trying to hack their way into the system. This is very likely what happened here. Twitter compiled a list of seemingly real accounts and left it where hackers could find it. They used all of those blocked spammer addresses as the bait. Whoever broke in took the bait.

We may never know for sure who posted that list of fake Twitter accounts, but it's pretty clear that they never got near Twitter's real user list, if only because it has so few names. Twitter users number in the tens of millions, and the nearly 60,000 names that showed up in the lists aren't anything like the population of Twitter.

The bottom line it seems is that Twitter created a honey pot and a hacker got sucked into it. But it wasn't Anonymous, and it wasn't real data. The only plausible reason why Twitter isn't saying more is most likely because the company would rather not talk about its honey pot. But this reasoning assumes that Twitter is telling the world something that approximates the truth. 

Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazine's Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters

Rocket Fuel