My Foul Owl Ordeal – The Juicy Details Of Getting My Blog Hacked And Being Suspended By Twitter

Warning: This is a long blog post detailing my adventures through blocked blogs and suspended Twitter accounts. If you’re looking for a short read or have a really short attention span, you’d be better off checking out my Tweets or skipping to the end of this post where there are some key lessons learned from this experience.

If you have a few minutes and are looking for the “juicy details” (you’ll learn what that means later), grab a cup of coffee, get comfy, and read on 🙂

Blogs, Tweets, Hackers, Oh My!

Okay, it’s official. I am not a social media addict. Well, not a certifiable one, anyway. As of yesterday, I successfully survived 12 days of withdrawal from my main sources of social media and came out on the other side alive. Okay…so I cheated a little bit using Facebook and LinkedIn, but shhhh….don’t tell anyone.

I’d love to report that my 12 day hiatus was the result of some exotic retreat to an off-the-grid island paradise, but unfortunately, I was forced into seclusion from my blog and Twitter by the nefarious forces at work on the Internet…probably some 14 year-old kid with entirely too much time on their hands.

Banned From Twitter – Uh Oh!!

So it was Friday morning and I had just finished up a conversation with a fellow employee about an internal microblog (similar to Twitter) that we are running at work. He had some questions about TweetDeck, so I offered to show him how I had TweetDeck configured. As we started to go through my configuration, I noticed a tweet from @carolyndouglas indicating that my account had been suspended (thanks Carolyn!).

carolyndouglas_tweet

One of my followers alerted me to the problem. Thanks Carolyn!

Huh?? How could that be? I headed on over to the native Twitter Web site and lo and behold, there was the Twitter Foul Owl right on my home page indicating that everyone should mosey along from my profile. Ouch! What had I done? Who had I offended? I consider myself to be a model tweeter, offering constructive dialog, links to valuable content, and I try to keep my snarky comments to myself (albeit sometimes unsuccessfully).

fowl_owl

The Dreaded Foul Owl – Who Goes There?

So what was this “strange activity” that the wise Foul Owl was referencing? My follow:follower ratio wasn’t unbalanced, I wasn’t spamming anyone, and I wasn’t pitching Viagara or Xanax to my followers, so what’s the deal? Why are my Document Management or Intranet-focused tweets being considered strange? I was downright befuddled.

My Response – A Kneejerk Reaction To Being Called “Strange”

Being told that your tweets are “strange” isn’t a good feeling and my initial reaction was one of frustration and irritation. Unfortunately, I was headed to back-to-back afternoon meetings, so I had to brew a bit over my Twitter suspension before I could seek resolution. I found that the longer my day drew on,  the more fixated I became on having my content called “strange”. Who’s to judge what is strange? Was I strange because I like to talk about technology, Intranets, and Enterprise Content Management? My wife seems to think so, but she never banned be from prattling on about the latest portal upgrade or cool new document workflow solutions. Instead, she just politely nods a lot and her eyes get a bit of a glazy look, but she always smiles and pretends to be interested…but I digress.

At the end of the day, I finally had some time to look into the issue. My first step was to click the Foul Owl link below the image that offered the “juicy details” to find out why I had been suspended. Unfortunately, Foul Owl didn’t provide any useful information and there were definitely NOT any juicy details as the wise bird promised. Instead, I was taken to a Google “Oops! page indicating that the juicy details I was seeking were not available.

The Twitter Foul Owl promised me juicy details, but dumped me to a Google Oops! page.

The Twitter Foul Owl promised me juicy details, but dumped me to a Google Oops! page.

In the immortal words of Homer J. Simpson, “DOH!”.

How dare the Foul Owl promise me the details on why I was being blocked and then send me off to the land of unfound content. Talk about strange! Well, being that I was already worked up, I decided to go the next step and check out http://help.twitter.com to see if they could provide me with some relief and maybe a description of why I was “strange” and “suspended”.

Twitter Help Wasn’t Much Help In Understanding Why I Had Been Suspended

Unfortunately, the Twitter help site was less than helpful. I was already frustrated and the Google Oops! page didn’t help, but at least the Twitter help site looked like a wealth of information. However, instead of getting any useful information about suspended accounts, I got a lot of “how to” content on Finding People on Twitter and information on the Twitter text commands. After searching and searching for a way to open a support ticket with Twitter, I finally found a tiny link buried in the middle of a TON of content.

twitter_ticket_link

Twitter buries the link to create a support ticket.

Now I don’t mean to complain, but when someone is looking for help, burying the link that offers that help in the middle of the page amongst a ton of content doesn’t seem to be the best user experience. Maybe this is Twitter’s strategy since it forces  folks to read through the how to find people and text commands, but my guess is that Twitter support isn’t being flooded with requests for help on finding Uncle Joe or Aunt Sally or even “how do I use the official Twitter text commands??” so I’m not sure about their strategy in burying the support link. Maybe they figure that if they bury the link amongst useless information, it is less likely to be found.

Tip #1: If your account has been suspended by Twitter and you feel the suspension is unfair, go to http://help.twitter.com and scroll down the page half way to find the link in the image above to open a ticket.

The Support Ticket Is Opened, But Still No Reason Why!

Having found the link, I went ahead and opened a support ticket. With my frustration level being pretty high, I think I did a pretty good job asking politely why I had been suspended and what I needed to do to reverse the decision. After all, I am a firm believer that ticking off your support engineer, garbage man, or waitress rarely has a good outcome.

Although the ticket was opened, I still didn’t know why I had been blocked, so I took a look at my most recent posts to see if I had offended someone.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to dig too deep to find the problem. My last tweet had been a response thanking a fellow Tweeter for a comment she made on the title of one of my blog posts

thanks_tweet

A seemingly benign tweet until I clicked the link to my blog site and was presented with the Google warning that visiting the site might harm my computer due to issues with the site. Double-DOH!!

google_malware

Now what had I done? My Twitter account had been suspended, my blog was giving me a warning….ping. The lightbulb went on and I connected the two.  Since my blog was being blocked by Google and my tweets often contain links to my blog, Twitter must rely on Google warnings to identify people who are posting up links to spam or malware. Genius!! Well….Except for the part where they suspended me.

So My Blog Was Hacked And My Twitter Account Suspended

It appeared as though my weekend was about to be shot to bits. Now I had to figure out what was wrong with my blog and then figure out how to convince Twitter to un-suspend my account. Fortunately, having been in the Web business for some time, I know a few tools that helped me troubleshoot the issue quickly. First, I checked the most recent version of my blogging software. Unfortunately, I was one dot release behind, which could have exposed a weakness allowing someone to inject malware code into my site.

Next, I used a really nice tool at www.dasient.com which does a complete scan of your site to search for malware. It then tells you which pages are potentially infected. Since I had a couple of pages that were infected, I decided not to take and chances and restored my entire site from a backup to ensure clean pages and then upgraded to the latest dot release.

Tip #2: If Google, IE, or Firefox is indicating that your site is unsafe to visit, it’s a good idea to take the site offline so as not to infect any additional visitors and then run a check against your offline files (using a test server or subdirectory) at Dasient.com. Having an offline backup of all your files makes a site restore much easier.

NOTE:Dasient has since discontinued their free tool, however AVG offers a similar tool that you can use to check your site located at http://www.avg.com.au/resources/web-page-scanner/

After restoring the site and rerunning a Dasient check to ensure that no additional infection existed, I used Google WebMaster tools to request a review of my site to have the warning removed. After fixing the issue, it took less than 12 hours for Google to unblock the site.

So The Blog Is Fixed, Now To Just Get My Twitter Account Un-Suspended

Sounds easy enough, right? Blog fixed in under 24 hours, Twitter account should be a piece of cake. Unfortunately, no. To Twitters’ credit, they take malware seriously. Links are critical to the vitality of Twitter and if they didn’t take malware seriously, Twitter would quickly become a dumping ground for attackers looking to spread malicious links across the Web. So, I do have to give kudos to Twitter for taking this issue so seriously. According to the Twitter information on suspended accounts, it could be as long as 30 days before my account was cleared and I was able to tweet again. Triple DOH!!

Fortunately, it only took 12 days.

According to Twitter support, they address tickets in the order they are received, so I guess I just had to wait in line until a support tech got to my ticket. I checked in daily on my ticket, anxiously awaiting a response. Fortunately, once my ticket came up in the queue, the support rep was able to review my site, ensure that I was tweeting within their guidelines and was a good Twitter citizen, and restore my account quickly.

Five Lessons Learned From This Crazy Adventure

  1. If you are using open source blogging software, it is imperative that you keep your blog software on the absolute latest release to ensure that any security holes are closed. Because the software is open source, hackers have access to the code and will exploit any security issue they can find. This means checking your site daily for new releases.
  2. Twitter does not notify users when their accounts are suspended. If you’re lucky, you’ll find out from your followers. If you’re not lucky, you’ll find out when you go to post.
  3. Fix any blog or site issues before you ask for your Twitter account to be reinstated. If your ticket comes up for review and your blog or site is still not clean, Twitter will not un-suspend your account.
  4. Open a Twitter ticket as soon as you have a clean bill of health for your site. It will probably take a while for Twitter to reinstate your account.
  5. Vigilance is key. Pay attention to those Google and Firefox malware warnings. Don’t visit the site. Give the sitemaster time to fix the problem and check back later.

Okay, so those are the “juicy details” that Foul Owl promised, but never delivered. I hope that by sharing this adventure, I can help my fellow bloggers and tweeters navigate these waters in case your are faced with a similar situation. I’d be more than interested to hear similar experiences and will try to answer any questions you might have about the process in comment responses.

Happy (and safe) blogging and tweeting!

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Comments And Reactions

  1. Jon Spangler says

    Thanks for this account of how to “fix” a problem I have not yet encountered. As a non-technical inhabitant of thesocial media “cloud,” I am much more at the mercy of hackers and malware than others, so this really helps.

    I have bookmarked your story so it can help me if/when the day comes that the “foul owl” shows up on my tweetstep….

    Thanks,

    Jon

  2. Marshall Jones Jr. says

    Thank you for the help. I’m going through exactly what you went through. The advice about Dasient.com really helpful.

    Thank you for taking the time to post this.

    Marshall Jones Jr.

  3. Sean R. Nicholson says

    Glad to hear this helped. Good luck in getting it sorted out and be patient with Twitter. Once you get your site cleaned up, Twitter will get you back online and Tweeting.

    Cheers!

    –Sean

  4. Jef Blocker says

    I sent my fifth tweet from my Palm Centro in May, and I was suspended for “strange activity.” I opened a support request and it was closed a month later with no resolution or explanation. I’ve opened two other support tickets, but Twitter automoatically closes the tickets and sends me an email saying that I’m guilty of user or technical abuse. This is frustrating because my user ID is my name, and I want to keep it for branding purposes.

    Although I see the potential of Twitter, I’m hesitant to invest more time with it, if my account may be suspended at any time without explanation or customer support.

  5. Sean R. Nicholson says

    Keep working at it, Jef! Twitter support can be slow and their responses to spam and abuse seem to be to lock the account and then not respond so that spammers and abusers get frustrated and leave. This makes it painful for legitimate users who fall into the system. Keep opening those tickets and asking for an explanation, eventually you’ll get it unlocked.

    –Sean

  6. MikeAnthony says

    Jef, I had the same problem. I was suspended, and wanted my account name for branding purposes. What I was able to do was log in to my suspended account and change my name… then create a new account with the previous name I used. Its been 3 weeks and my original twitter account is still suspended… I’m basically burnt out with dealing with their support.

  7. We are experiencing these same issues. We have cleared everything but cannot get Google to respond to our request. After we demolished the malware from our site, we still have a lot of visitors still getting the the dire warning because we can’t get Google to clear our site. They just won’t respond to our request. I wish it was only 12 hours, but it’s been like a week. UGH! This is getting very old. We still have Twitter but cannot link anything back to our website. So far, the Facebook account is OK. Thanks for all of your suggestions. If anything else comes to mind, please share! Thanks

  8. Jean Kelsey says

    Thank you for sharing your story and so sorry it all happened to you. I’ve seen several people feeling the heart ache of ‘suspended’ and the loss of of blogs in the last few days. My stomach sinks when I hear or read about these events and it just dropped again while reading your story. Glad you are back! I appreciate you sharing Dasient, too!

  9. Richard Townsend says

    I had two self hosted wordress blogs… about 150 posts…. the data server of my host was compromised and I lost all posts. No one has been able to retrieve the data so I now use blogger and a public wordpress blog….! Can’t say for sure that a hacker was involved in the loss of the data however I won’t be going down the self hosted worpress road again.

    I feel your pain… and thank you for the excellent information!

  10. Marchel Peterson says

    Wow, what an experience! It was good that you had some experience to draw upon to help you but I wonder what nightmare this would be for someone without that experience.

  11. Fang Feng says

    What a horrible situation. We all hope that would never happen to ourselves, but it does happen to us sometimes. I like your ideas to share this with us (some of us consider this like a shame and would keep it to ourselves). Thanks a lot.

  12. very interesting and well written. thanks

  13. Janet Callaway says

    Sean, aloha. this post is going to live on my computer. While I hope that neither I nor anyone else I know experiences what you did, “just in case” I want to have your oh-so-informative post handy.

    Thanks so much for the detail. Aloha. Janet

  14. Susan Davis Cushing says

    Incredible, Sean. So sorry! As Janet just mentioned, I “locked down” this article. Twelve days! I would need an IV. Spreading the word now.

  15. Lucas Wyrsch says

    Dear Sean,

    What’s wrong with twitter?

    Is Weibo better than Twitter?

    Twitter actually suspends in the millions because its management has lost control over the tool!

    Twitter will become as worthless as MySpace wrote Jeremy Schoemaker on July 13, 2011, before we started to use Google Plus.

    Since July 13, 2011, the problems with Twitte’s suspensions have worsened!

    I doubt that twitter still has control over its tool!

    Have a great and happy weekend!

    Best,

    Lucas

  16. Jeff Mayernik says

    Twitter ‘support’ is all but useless in my opinion. I had an account suspended for ‘Potentially violating the TOS’ but they never did tell me what they thought that I had done. I only found out it was suspended when I went to tweet something. The initial response from support was that I should review the TOS. After I asked specifically (and politely) if they couldn’t maybe let me know which rule that they thought I had violated I got another canned response advising that my account would be reviewed. And when they did finally reinstate me they did not let me know that they had reinstated me, nor did they ever say which rule they thought I had violated to get suspended in the first place. Since it was a new account with exactly one tweet posted and only a handful of followers, I’m still mystified.

  17. Catherine White says

    That must have been a horrid experience.

    I fess up, in previous blogs I said I wasn’t addicted to blogging, but if I was locked out of twitter, they would have to call the white coats. Can I have the contact details for your therapist, should I ever need couch time.

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