UW-Madison Twitter account hacked

This was the last message sent on the main Twitter account for UW-Madison by someone who hacked into the account Wednesday morning.

UW-Madison officials had to wrestle back control over their Twitter account Wednesday morning after a hacker posted a series of bizarre and profane tweets to the university’s 160,000 followers.

Someone accessed the @UWMadison account and tweeted four times between 6:31 a.m. and 6:36 a.m., posting a YouTube link and a message that appeared to credit another Twitter user for the hack.

Twitter has suspended that user’s account.

“lol why go to university when u can just sit at home and fail at life and stuff,” one of the tweets read.

It was, needless to say, a sharp turn from the tweets typically posted by the social media-savvy university’s communications staff, which often focus on campus life, faculty research and athletics.

The tweets stayed up for about three hours as UW officials worked with Twitter to restore the account.

They were deleted at 9:30 a.m., and the university announced the hack was over about 45 minutes later with a tweet reading, “We’re back!”

There were few details Wednesday of who took over the account or how the hack was carried out.

A university statement said officials did not know how the account was compromised, but said UW “will undertake a review of its social media account security in the wake of the disruption.”

UW-Madison accounts on other social networking sites did not appear to be affected, nor were the many other UW-affiliated accounts on Twitter, according to spokesman John Lucas.

There was also no indication any university computer systems or data were breached, Lucas said.

The hacked tweets did not include any malicious links, which might have compromised other users’ accounts, nor did they use threatening language aimed at any individuals or groups.

Kellan Terry, a senior data analyst for the social media consulting firm BrandWatch, said that indicates whoever hacked UW-Madison was probably trying to show off, rather than use the account for more harmful reasons.

“They went looking around for social media mischief, so to speak, and they found it in hacking this Twitter account,” Terry said.

University Twitter accounts are prime targets, he said, because they have large audiences of people, many of whom — in the case of students or alumni — are inclined to closely follow what the institution posts.

Lucas said he and Nate Moll, the university’s social media coordinator, could watch the hack unfold Wednesday morning as they received messages telling them about attempts to log in to the account, and to change its email address and password. They quickly started working with Twitter, Lucas said.

The fact that the tweets stayed up for as long as they did is a sign UW administrators were locked out of their account, Terry said.

“We’re proud of the account and spend a lot of time and effort curating it,” Lucas said. “As you can imagine, it’s not a good feeling to see something like this happen.

“We’re disappointed, but relieved that the damage wasn’t more significant.”

Terry said the hack likely would not have any long-term repercussions for UW-Madison’s public image. Rather, he said, it’s a reminder for universities and everyone else to take the security of their social media accounts seriously.

“This can happen to any individual or any organization,” Terry said.

State Journal reporter Rob Schultz contributed to this report.

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Nico Savidge is the higher education reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.