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Trump's 11-Minute Twitter Outage Raises Broader Security Questions

President Donald Trump's Twitter account may have only disappeared for 11 minutes — but it is raising questions about broader security implications.
Image: The masthead of U.S. President Donald Trump's @realDonaldTrump Twitter account is seen on July 11, 2017.
The masthead of U.S. President Donald Trump's @realDonaldTrump Twitter account is seen on July 11, 2017.Reuters

President Donald Trump's Twitter account may have only disappeared for 11 minutes on Thursday — but it is raising questions about broader security implications.

Twitter said a departing employee was responsible for the outage that sent shock waves through social media and fueled speculation about what was really happening to the president's @realDonaldTrump account.

The account was back up and running Thursday night, but the president didn't acknowledge the incident until a tweet on Friday morning that confirmed his account had been taken down by a "rogue employee." That employee has not been named and it's not clear what kind of access he or she had to the president's account.

While the momentary outage led to a moment of frenzy and — for some — jubilation over Trump's absence on Twitter, there are serious questions being asked about what a bigger hack could do.

Related: Rogue Twitter Employee Shuts Down Trump's Account

Charlie Beckett, media professor at the London School of Economics, says even though no real damage was done this time, the incident should raise many red flags.

“Imagine what might have happened if someone hacked the president’s account and started sending out even more provocative tweets? His messages can move markets and put armies on alert," Beckett told NBC News.

One major concern is the growing tension between the United States and North Korea over that nation's nuclear ambitions: Among other strong-arm rhetoric, Trump tweeted in September that North Korea "won't be around much longer" — which Pyongyang regarded as a "declaration of war."

Anthony Glees, security expert and professor at the University of Buckingham, agreed that the breach should be taken seriously.

Related: Trump’s Twitter Habit Is Hurting His Presidency

“What it showed was that the president’s Twitter account could be manipulated by somebody other than the president of the United States,” Glees said. “We live in an instantaneous world and these outages are very dangerous."

But Ewan Lawson, Senior Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute think tank in London, says it’s unlikely that one “rogue” tweet from Trump’s account would actually spark a global crisis.

“Whilst it might cause an immediate reaction, I am reasonably confident that the wheels of diplomacy — globally speaking — still move sufficiently slowly that it would be unlikely to lead to anything major,” Lawson said. “The nature of social media, particularly Twitter, is that there are so many feeds and so many sources that one single tweet, even one from the President of the United States, can always be balanced by other inputs.”

Regardless, Lawson said the president’s use of Twitter as an official platform is a conversation that should have been held in the White House a long time ago.

The weakest link

After the snafu, Twitter announced it’s launching an internal review, but Lawson says addressing a breach involving a former employee could prove difficult for the company.

“The employees are, in some ways, the weakest link,” he said. “And if that individual — an insider threat, if you like — has the access and is motivated to do something, it is very difficult to put any measures in place. The only measure you can put in place is keeping an eye on your employees and understanding where the risks are.”

Beckett says if Twitter wants to be seen as a safe place where the most powerful people in the world can communicate directly with the public, the company needs to step up its game.

“Social media companies have always operated on the basis that mistakes will always happen with a live, open network and can be corrected after the event in a timely and transparent way," he said. "But this incident shows how that principle is no longer good enough.”

NBC News has reached out to the White House to clarify if any protocols surrounding the president's use of Twitter have been changed as the result of the incident.