Up to 250,000 Twitter users have had their accounts hacked in the latest of a string of high-profile internet security breaches.
Twitter’s information security director Bob Lord said users’ passwords had been stolen, as well as usernames, emails and other data.
Affected users have had passwords invalidated and have been sent emails informing them.
Bob Lord said the attack “was not the work of amateurs”.
He said it appeared similar to recent attacks on the New York Times and others.
The newspaper reported this week that their computer systems had been breached by China-based hackers
Bob Lord said in a blog post Twitter had discovered unauthorized attempts to access data held by the website, including one attack that was identified and stopped moments after it was detected.
“This attack was not the work of amateurs, and we do not believe it was an isolated incident,” he wrote.
Bob Lord did not say who had carried out the attack, but added: “The attackers were extremely sophisticated, and we believe other companies and organizations have also been recently similarly attacked.”
“For that reason we felt that it was important to publicize this attack while we still gather information, and we are helping government and federal law enforcement in their effort to find and prosecute these attackers to make the internet safer for all users.”
Internet security specialist Graham Cluley warned Twitter’s announcement that emails would be sent to users may prompt a spate of spam emails “phishing” for sensitive information.
He says people should be cautious about opening emails which appear to be from Twitter.
“You have to be careful if you get hold of one of these emails because, of course, it could equally be a phishing attack – it could be someone pretending to be Twitter.
“So, log into the Twitter site as normal and try and log in to your account and, if there’s a problem, that’s when you actually have to try and reset your password.”
On Thursday the New York Times linked the attack to a story it published alleging relatives of former Premier Wen Jiabao controlled assets worth billions of dollars.
China’s foreign ministry dismissed the New York Times’ accusations as “groundless” and “totally irresponsible”.