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FRANKFURT A diplomatic spat between Turkey, the
Netherlands and Germany spread online on Wednesday when a large
number of Twitter accounts were hijacked and replaced
with anti-Nazi messages in Turkish.
The attacks, using the hashtags #Nazialmanya (NaziGermany)
or #Nazihollanda (NaziHolland), took over accounts of
high-profile CEOs, publishers, government agencies, politicians
and also some ordinary Twitter users.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has accused the German and
Dutch governments of Nazi-style tactics, drawing protests from
both countries, after Turkish government ministers were barred
from addressing political rallies there to boost his support among expatriate Turks.
The account hijackings took place as the Dutch began voting
on Wednesday in a parliamentary election that is seen as a test
of anti-establishment and anti-immigrant sentiment.
“Politically motivated cyber attacks in general thrive on
making as large a media impact as possible and therefore it is
expected to see these attacks whenever a political conflict
escalates,” FireEye cyber security analyst Jens Monrad said.
The hacked accounts featured tweets with Nazi symbols, a
variety of hashtags and the phrase “See you on April 16”, the
date of a planned referendum in Turkey on extending Erdogan’s
Among them were the accounts of the European Parliament and
the personal profile of French conservative politician Alain
They also included the UK Department of Health and BBC North
America, along with the profile of Marcelo Claure, the chief
executive of U.S. telecoms operator Sprint Corp.
Other accounts included publishing sites for Die Welt,
Forbes and Reuters Japan and several non-profit agencies
including Amnesty International and UNICEF USA, as well as Duke
University in the United States.
The hijacked profiles were recovered, some more quickly than
others. BBC North America tweeted: “Hi everyone – we temporarily
lost control of this account, but normal service has resumed”.
A Twitter spokesman said it was aware of the latest account
takeovers and had begun to investigate.
“We quickly located the source which was limited to a third
party app. We removed its permissions immediately,” a Twitter
statement said. It added that no additional accounts are
At least some of the hijacked tweets appear to have been
delivered via Twitter Counter, a Netherlands-based Twitter
audience analytics company. Twitter Counter Chief Executive Omer
Ginor acknowledged via email that the service had been hacked.
“Preliminary findings are that our app, (along) with others,
was used this morning to send Erdogan-supporting and anti-Dutch
messages on behalf of our users,” Ginor said. He added: “We’ve
already taken measures to contain such abuse,” including
suspending the posting of tweets via the Twitter Connect app.
The firm provides statistics to some 2 million Twitter users
who link their profiles into the Twitter Connect app to track
audience responses to their tweets. This connection appears to
have been exploited in the attacks.
Twitter Counter also was the target of a hack attack in
mid-November that led some Twitter accounts linked to the
company’s app to spew out spam tweets, including those of soccer
star Lionel Messi and gaming sites Sony Playstation and
Ginor said the connections between the November attacks and
the current ones were circumstantial, but there were
“Both attacks (had) similar effects and seemingly (the) same
country of origin, as the November attackers were indeed
operating from Turkey and the actions taken were benefiting
Turkish properties and people,” the Twitter Counter exec said.
CYBER PROTEST STUNTS
Last Saturday, denial of service attacks staged by a Turkish
hacking group hit the websites of Rotterdam airport and
anti-Islam firebrand Geert Wilders, whose Freedom Party is vying
to form to form the biggest party in the Dutch parliament.
A Turkish group known as Aslan Neferler Tim (Lion Soldiers
Team) claimed responsibility.
The same group appears to have been responsible for
temporary outages in August and September last year of the sites
of Austrian institutions including the Vienna airport, the
national parliament and Central Bank.
Those attacks occurred in the midst of a diplomatic row that
followed Austria’s calls for European Union accession talks with
Turkey to be dropped.
Analyst Monrad said cyber attacks have become a technically
easy and increasingly common means of political score-settling.
“Ultimately, this trend will only get worse,” he said. “Cyber threats don’t move backward. If anything, the barrier to
entry only becomes lower over time”. (Additional reporting by Jeremy Wagstaff in Singapore and
Subrat Patnaik in Bangalore)
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