Tuesday's hacking of the Associated Press' Twitter account is the latest in a number of high-profile social media hijackings.
According to the AP, its Twitter account suffered a phishing attack, which allowed a hacker to publish a tweet that read "Breaking: Two Explosions in the White house and Barack Obama is injured." The tweet, which was sent out just after 1 p.m. EST, panicked Twitter users and caused the Dow Jones Industrial Average to drop 143 points.
Eric Johnson, professor and director of the Center for Digital Strategies at Dartmouth College's Tuck School, says that these types of hacks have become all too common. This year alone, NPR, the BBC, Burger King and Jeep have all had social media accounts compromised.
"Phishing is the most common method used to break into Twitter and steal credentials. They're extremely simple hacks that can cause extreme havoc," Johnson says. "It only takes one simple hack to create a world of problems.
If you or your business falls victim to a social media hack, here are four things you should do to recover from it and ensure it doesn't happen again.
1. Regain Control of Your Account
If your Twitter account has been compromised, the first thing you need to do is change your password immediately, Johnson says. Do this by clicking on the gear icon in the top-right of your screen and select Settings. Click "Password" from the menu on the left and enter in your new password.
If your account has been suspended because Twitter suspects you were hacked, visit support.twitter.com/forms/hacked to fill out a form that will help you regain access.
Because third-party apps that have access to your Twitter account can be a reason why your account was compromised, Johnson recommends revisiting this list and removing any unnecessary applications.
To see which apps have access to your account, visit your Settings page and click "Apps" from the menu on the left. Revoke access to applications you are unfamiliar with or are no longer using.
2. Delete Posts and Inform Your Audience
Once you've regained control of your account, remove the tweets that the hacker posted. Do this by navigating to your profile, hovering over the offending tweet and clicking "Delete."
Johnson says it's also important to inform your stakeholders of the situation to let them know what happened and that it's under control.
"Time is of the essence. Be sure to rebroadcast the issue on every channel available to you," he says. "Post a message on your website's homepage, tweet it, post it on Facebook and other social media sites. This ensures they know about the problem and it reduces the damage."
3. Review Your Social Media Process
Johnson says that because social media can feel both familiar and simple, users in charge of maintaining an account can be lulled into a false sense of security. This is why after an incident—or at any other time—it's a good idea to review and amend your processes for and use of sites such as Twitter.
"Setting up a process for using social media may seem contrary since it should be raw and transparent, but when you're representing a company, it pays to think about what the process around it looks like," Johnson says.
Start by involving your chief security officer or chief privacy officer in a conversation to examine procedures and to look for areas in which you can improve, he suggests.
For example, Johnson says: "Because are people associated with these tweets, if a hacker can figure out who's tweeting—their email address, for example—they can figure out how to phish."
4. Preach and Teach Online Safety
Johnson says that anyone who is involved in a business' social media efforts should receive training not only on how to use it effectively, but on the security risks and how to recognize them.
"Phishing attacks are easy to see through if you take the time and know what you're looking for," he says. "These sorts of things are trainable."
Kristin Burnham covers consumer technology, social networking and social business for CIO.com. Follow Kristin on Twitter @kmburnham. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Kristin at firstname.lastname@example.org