If you spent time on Twitter last week, you might have noticed something strange; high-profile accounts such as those belonging to Elon Musk, Barack Obama, and Bill Gates, posted identical messages asking people to send them bitcoin. The reason for that was that the social media service was hit with a massive attack compromising those accounts.
One of the Biggest Social Media Cyber Security Incidents
The attack will likely go down as one of the biggest cybersecurity disasters on social media. Still, security experts are worried that it could just be the tip of the iceberg. Experts are concerned that the attack could become a data breach involving the personal communications of some of the most powerful and influential people in the world.
The FBI announced they are investigating the attack, and Twitter says they are working with victims to assess whether or not private data associated with the accounts had been compromised. Twitter released a statement saying that approximately 130 accounts were affected by the attack, with attackers gaining the ability to send tweets from some of the compromised accounts.
The attack is a powerful reminder of the power of social media, especially during a presidential election year. Social media has proven to have the potential to disrupt the world at large. While Twitter has a smaller userbase than Facebook, Twitter has shown to have a more significant influence on the media and news, policymakers, and investors. Twitter is the home of breaking news, business announcements, and even declarations by presidents. The attacker shows just how much people trust Twitter and how brittle the system can be when push comes to shove.
Who Was Behind the Attacks?
It is unknown what the attackers were ultimately after, but the attack by itself raises plenty of concerns for security experts, policymakers, and the higher-ups at Twitter. The hackers could have caused a financial crash, disrupted presidential campaigns, and made fake policy announcements to cause chaos. If anything, we’re lucky that they chose to run a bitcoin scam.
An ex-employee of Twitter raised a particularly poignant point by suggesting if the account of Ivanka Trump, President Trump’s daughter, were to tweet out that her father had chosen to launch a nuclear strike, then it would have caused chaos. Given that the accounts of neither the president nor Ivanka appeared to be hacked, such a scenario wasn’t possible this time – but who knows what could happen in the future?
The Director of Social Media at the White House, Dan Scavino, has been in constant contact with Twitter to help secure the account of the president. Press secretary Kayleigh McEanny said that the president’s account was safe and that he would continue to be on Twitter.
Some people had trouble posting to Twitter as the company locked down many accounts to prevent further damage. These measures were later lifted.
How the Cyberattack Happened According to Twitter
Twitter offered their own preliminary explanation for the hack, saying that it was the result of a “coordinated social engineering attack” against Twitter employees with access to “internal systems and tools.” The hackers used those tools to access high-profile accounts and send out tweets using them. Twitter continues to investigate any other actions the hackers may have taken.
The attackers sent out tweets encouraging users to send them money in the form of bitcoin, promising to return twice the amount. The whole thing was a scam, and the hackers made off with over $116,000 in bitcoin, according to reports. That bitcoin transactions are available to the public on the blockchain makes the hack an even bigger spectacle.
Law enforcement is keeping an eye on the wallets used by the hackers to catch them making transfers. While the money lost in the attack seems excessive, the fact is that it was relatively small compared to the millions that hackers have taken through other financially motivated attacks. The real story behind the Twitter hack is more how deeply the hackers were able to get into Twitter, rather than how much money they stole in the process.
Social Media Cyberattacks Post a Bigger Threat Than You Think
Millions of people use Twitter to communicate privately through direct messages, as well as to communicate with the world via tweets. If the hackers were able to access those direct messages, it could lead to some severe issues depending on what these people were discussing over Twitter.
Twitter still doesn’t have all the answers related to the attack, but experts are bracing for a worst-case scenario. The attackers made the hack public by using the accounts to ask for bitcoin, which guaranteed that Twitter would step in and lock them out. This could show that the hackers were only in it for the attention and money, but it’s also possible that the hackers already downloaded everything they needed and didn’t care whether they still had access to the accounts or not.
There’s no telling if the hackers will be back to blackmail victims or not. We also don’t know how many accounts were actually compromised. Only a portion of the compromised accounts flipped the bitcoin scam message. Many accounts were compromised but stayed quiet, so we can’t tell how many were hacked in all.