Ed Miliband becomes target of hackers bent on embarrassing politicians

'I've been having better sex and longer with this here' 'Ed Miliband', Friday morning / 'Oh dear, I've fallen victim to Twitter's latest scam' Ed Miliband, two hours later

It was supposed to be the "cool" way for MPs to reconnect with the people, a way to persuade a sceptical public that they were "down with the kids" and keen to embrace the digital age.

But in the past month, more and more bewildered politicians have found that using the micro-blogging website Twitter can lead to embarrassment.

Yesterday, Ed Miliband became the latest victim of a "Twitterjacking" scam which has caught out a series of politicians including the Leader of the House of Commons, Harriet Harman.

Logging in to their Twitter accounts over breakfast, the Energy Secretary's 6,664 followers were greeted with an enthusiastic message apparently sent from his computer, the content of which was enough to make them splutter into their cornflakes.

Alongside a picture of a smiling Mr Miliband, the message read: "Hhey [sic], i've been having better sex and longer with this here," followed by a link to a website. The embarrassed minister moved quickly to reassure his followers, admitting: "Oh dear it seems like I've fallen victim to Twitter's latest 'phishing' scam."

In a sign of how quickly the problem can spread, only a few hours later the MP for Dunfermline and West Fife, Willie Rennie, had sent an identical message to more than 4,000 of his followers, including local volunteers and parents. "I've had lots of reaction and they say no publicity is bad publicity, but it's been a bit embarrassing," he told STV News.

On Thursday, the Glasgow South MP, Tom Harris, wrote a blog entry in which he joked about a sexual proposition he had received from The Independent on Sunday's political columnist John Rentoul as part of the scam – only to fall prey to it himself shortly afterwards. His Twitter entry read: "Tom Harris MP. Hot, horny, 24-year-old Independent journalist looking for good time..."

Harriet Harman told MPs on Thursday that her account had sent a bogus message to the shadow Prisons minister, Alan Duncan. She was responding to a question from the Labour MP Janet Anderson, who urged the Government to look into a website which she said had set up false Twitter accounts in the names of all North-west MPs.

The site, which is called The Year of Collaboration, describes itself as being run by "a collective of techies in the North-west who build things on the internet". It has set up "holding" profiles in the name of MPs who are not already using Twitter in the hope of persuading them to join.

A statement on the site says: "If you're an MP with a holding Twitter account, we'd be very happy to hand over the 'keys' – please email us from your House of Commons email account, and ... we'll send you the username and password for the account." Ms Harman said she would tell ministers to investigate.

Because Twitter functions as a social network – most users are linked to hundreds of others, who are linked to hundreds more – the messages can spread rapidly from politicians to lobby journalists and others in the media with whom they communicate.

In one instance, the news editor of a national newspaper was sent a private message from the Twitter account of the media commentator Roy Greenslade. The message appeared to be an honest attempt to confirm the authenticity of his account, reading simply: "This you?"

Another less subtle example, sent from the account of a journalist at The Guardian newspaper, read: "hi, i'm 24/female/horny...i have to get off here but message me on my windows live messenger name". An identical message was sent by several journalists in the parliamentary lobby, to the amusement of their friends and colleagues.

The attacks usually come in the form of private messages with a short greeting and a link to a cloned version of the Twitter website, which asks the user to enter their username and password. Once this is done, the hackers have full access to the person's account and can use it to send out messages – which can be read by thousands of the victim's followers.

Graham Cluley, a senior technology consultant at security firm Sophos, said: "With an election coming up, [MPs] want to appear down with the kids and use new technology to reach out to people more effectively. But they need to go back to the classroom to learn about basic computer security. Too many of them are being a little bit lackadaisical."

Yesterday, Gordon Brown's spokesman said security checks were being carried out on the 10 Downing Street Twitter account as well as that of the Prime Minister's wife.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Baroness Lane-Fox warned that large companies such as have become so powerful that governments and regulators are left behind
techTech giants have left governments and regulators behind
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
Life and Style
'Prison Architect' players decide the fate of inmates
Life and Style
A picture taken on February 11, 2014 at people walking at sunrise on the Trocadero Esplanade, also known as the Parvis des droits de l'homme (Parvis of Human Rights), in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor