WHAT’S BEHIND THE TWITTER BITCOIN HACK?

Hackers broke into the Twitter accounts of world  leaders, celebrities and tech moguls last week in  one of the most high-profile security breaches in  recent years, highlighting a major flaw with the  service millions of people have come to rely on  as an essential communications tool.

The intent of the hack appeared to be to steal  money from unsuspecting cryptocurrency  enthusiasts — in particular, by using the  compromised high-follower accounts to scam  people out of Bitcoin. But it also raises questions  about Twitter’s ability to secure its service against  election interference and misinformation ahead  of the U.S. presidential election.

Here are some questions and answers about  the breach:

WHAT HAPPENED — AND HOW?

On Wednesday (15) afternoon, the Twitter  accounts of famous figures began tweeting  similar messages saying they were “feeling  generous” and would double any Bitcoin  payments sent to an address in the tweet.  Among the individual accounts affected  were former President Barack Obama,  Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden,  tech billionaires like Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos,  Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Tesla CEO  Elon Musk and celebrities such as Kanye West  and his wife, Kim Kardashian West.

Companies like Apple and Uber, which  respectively have 4.6 million and one million  followers, were also affected.


Twitter soon locked down many accounts,  including those of its “verified” users with  blue check marks next to their names — a  group that include many U.S. politicians as  well as businesses, celebrities, journalists and  news organizations. Twitter called the hack  a “coordinated social engineering attack”  by unknown people who “targeted” Twitter  employees with access to the platform’s internal  systems and tools.

The hackers, Twitter said, used this access to  take control of many high-profile accounts and  masquerade as their owners.

WHAT IS SOCIAL ENGINEERING?

Essentially, social engineering means taking  advantage of human nature. Examples include

phishing attacks and other ways people can  be tricked into giving out compromising  information, malware attacks that get  people to download malicious software, and  compromising people by offering something in  return for information. Twitter did not say how  its employees were compromised.


COULD THE ATTACK HAVE   BEEN PREVENTED?

Twitter said it has taken “significant steps” to  limit employees’ access to internal systems and  tools while its investigation is ongoing. But this  is not the first time Twitter employees have  wrecked havoc.

In 2017, a disgruntled employee deactivated  President Donald Trump’s account for a few  minutes. Last year, U.S. prosecutors charged  two former Twitter employees with spying on  user data for the government of Saudi Arabia.  The incidents raise questions about Twitter’s  internal security systems, and whether the  company can trust employees with access to  sensitive information.


WHAT DOES THE HACK MEAN FOR THE  2020 ELECTION?

The hack might be a simple demonstration of  Twitter’s weak security controls as the U.S. heads  into the 2020 presidential election, a contest in  which social media is already playing a hugely  influential role.

Among the political figures targeted, the hack  mostly appeared to target Democrats or other  figures on the left, drawing comparisons to  the 2016 campaign. The White House said that  President Donald Trump’s account was secure  and wasn’t jeopardized.

U.S. intelligence agencies have established  that Russia engaged in coordinated attempts  to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election through  social media tampering and various hacks,  including targeting the campaigns and major  party organizations.

While Twitter, Facebook and other social media  companies have since tightened their election  security systems and policies, malicious actors  trying to intervene have also improved their  tactics. In other words, if a Bitcoin scam was so  easy to pull off, what will prevent an attack on  the U.S. election? 

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