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French foreign affairs ministry falls prey to Twitter hacker

Text by Sébastian SEIBT

Latest update : 2010-09-17

The Twitter account of the French ministry of foreign affairs was the victim of cyber-piracy on Thursday, sending thousands of subscribers a hateful message about Roma people.

Usually more concerned with problems of dwindling resources and influence, the French ministry of foreign affairs had an altogether different problem to solve on Thursday: a hacker’s embarrassing post on the ministry's official Twitter account.

The tweet, the name for a short text posted on the micro-blogging website Twitter, was written in English and strongly insulted Roma people.

For weeks the French government has come under national and international censure for its policy of deporting Roma, or Gypsies, to Eastern Europe. It was not clear if the tweet was a deliberate insult to Roma, or a (not-so) subtle critique of the government’s anti-Roma policy.

At 8:23pm local time, after being online for around an hour, the message disappeared and was replaced with a less offensive tweet (translation of the message pictured in this article): “The account @francediplo has been hacked. We have deleted the message. We will take steps to ensure that this does not happen again.”

Unfortunately for the foreign affairs ministry, the cyber-attack had already been viewed by 46,448 people who follow its Twitter thread.

Ironic replies such as “@francediplo contributes in its own way to the reputation of our great country” and “Hello? Has the new minister arrived? He seems full of energy,” quickly flooded its site.

Even the US-based Read Write Web, a website dedicated new media, noted the unfortunate episode.

Relations in the 2.0 world

The account "@francediplo" has in fact been a tempting target for crafty cyber-pirates ever since it went online in 2009: it still has not received the "certified account" label intended to protect against hacking.

But the French foreign ministry is not the only high-profile victim of Twitter piracy. In January 2009, 33 accounts suffered the same fate. Suddenly US pop singer Britney Spears was sharing her bra cup size with fans, while the conservative Fox News confessed its own Bill O'Reilly was homosexual.

In July 2010 a French hacker managed to get into US President Barack Obama’s Twitter account. He was arrested in July 2010.

Nor was this the first cyber-hit against the French foreign affairs ministry. On July 16 “hacktivists” hijacked its official website and inserted a message promising that France would repay Haiti’s foreign debt.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the website reported spotting a classified ad put out by the beleaguered ministry: "Two 2.0 Web project managers needed immediately."

Date created : 2010-09-17

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