On Tuesday 23 April a tweet from Associated Press (AP) told the world that the White House had been attacked and Obama had been injured. The tweet was of course a hoax as the Twitter account had been hacked but it caused some temporary chaos. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 144 points between 10.07am and 10.09am, for example. Crude oil prices also briefly tumbled and the price of US Treasury bonds and gold futures spiked. Within minutes, AP disclosed that the tweet was erroneous and things returned to normal, with the Dow eventually rising 152 points for the day to close at 14,719.
The havoc was due to automatic trading systems that check news agency output and sell or buy according to the latest news. The hacking was probably caused by something as mundane as a human employee clicking on a link in a ‘fishing email’ and inadvertently passing on the details for the AP Twitter account.
See this article for more information: Fragile systems let hoax tweets make twits of us all
There are serious issues regarding the fragility of financial systems being so automated that they can get spooked by what was clearly a false story. However the original hacking of the account was something that has been a problem since the early days of online banking. PayPal users have recently experienced a huge increase in fishing emails and we have provided some advice on avoiding getting caught out by fishing emails in an earlier blog post.