Twitter hit by hackers, again

Chris Caceres · August 6, 2009 · Short URL:

The micro-blogging site went down for two hours after suffering denial-of-service attack

 Twitter, is yet again the victim of hackers.  Earlier this morning, the micro-blogging service announced,

"On this otherwise happy Thursday morning, Twitter is the target of a denial of service attack. Attacks such as this are malicious efforts orchestrated to disrupt and make unavailable services such as online banks, credit card payment gateways, and in this case, Twitter for intended customers or users."

Unlike the last attack on Twitter, in which a hacker got a hold of almost 300 pages worth of confidential documents, this one's sole purpose was to make the site inaccessible to its users.  
For two hours, Twitter's millions of users and much of the ecosystem that makes use of its API were deemed useless.

How a DoS attack functions.

Our lead engineer explained it to me like this, it's basically when an enormous amount of requests are made on a site's servers to bring it down.  If this attack was a distributed denial of service attack, it means Twitter was attacked from what could have potentially been thousands of computers attempting to log in at the exact same time, all infected with a trojan.

This in turn affected Facebook, in which users across the Web experienced sluggishness.  Although Facebook wasn't hacked, it felt some of the heat from a larger than usual amount of users deciding to use Facebook instead of Twitter.

If Twitter really wants to be the, 'pulse of the planet,' the company better step up and figure out better ways to defend itself from these sorts of things.  People across the world are beginning to rely on Twitter as a means of important communication during times of crisis.  The first report of the Hudson plane crash was said to have been Tweeted. 

As of the last update on Twitter's status blog, the site said it was back up, but continuing to defend and recover from the attack.

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What is Twitter?

Twitter is an online information network that allows anyone with an account to post 140 character messages, called tweets. It is free to sign up. Users then follow other accounts which they are interested in, and view the tweets of everyone they follow in their "timeline." Most Twitter accounts are public, where one does not need to approve a request to follow, or need to follow back. This makes Twitter a powerful "one to many" broadcast platform where individuals, companies or organizations can reach millions of followers with a single message. Twitter is accessible from, our mobile website, SMS, our mobile apps for iPhone, Android, Blackberry, our iPad application, or 3rd party clients built by outside developers using our API. Twitter accounts can also be private, where the owner must approve follower requests. 

Where did the idea for Twitter come from?

Twitter started as an internal project within the podcasting company Odeo. Jack Dorsey, and engineer, had long been interested in status updates. Jack developed the idea, along with Biz Stone, and the first prototype was built in two weeks in March 2006 and launched publicly in August of 2006. The service grew popular very quickly and it soon made sense for Twitter to move outside of Odea. In May 2007, Twitter Inc was founded.

How is Twitter built?

Our engineering team works with a web application framework called Ruby on Rails. We all work on Apple computers except for testing purposes. 

We built Twitter using Ruby on Rails because it allows us to work quickly and easily--our team likes to deploy features and changes multiple times per day. Rails provides skeleton code frameworks so we don't have to re-invent the wheel every time we want to add something simple like a sign in form or a picture upload feature.

How do you make money from Twitter?

There are a few ways that Twitter makes money. We have licensing deals in place with Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft's Bing to give them access to the "firehose" - a stream of tweets so that they can more easily incorporate those tweets into their search results.

In Summer 2010, we launched our Promoted Tweets product. Promoted Tweets are a special kind of tweet which appear at the top of search results within, if a company has bid on that keyword. Unlike search results in search engines, Promoted Tweets are normal tweets from a business, so they are as interactive as any other tweet - you can @reply, favorite or retweet a Promoted Tweet. 

At the same time, we launched Promoted Trends, where companies can place a trend (clearly marked Promoted) within Twitter's Trending Topics. These are especially effective for upcoming launches, like a movie or album release.

Lastly, we started a Twitter account called @earlybird where we partner with other companies to provide users with a special, short-term deal. For example, we partnered with Virgin America for a special day of fares on that were only accessible through the link in the @earlybird tweet.


What's next for Twitter?

We continue to focus on building a product that provides value for users. 

We're building Twitter, Inc into a successful, revenue-generating company that attracts world-class talent with an inspiring culture and attitude towards doing business.