by Lucas Nolan
Multiple verified Twitter accounts fell victim to a widespread hack that aimed to scam Twitter users into sending Bitcoin to anonymous accounts, now reports claim that hackers gained access to the accounts with the help of Twitter employees, possibly in exchange for money. The company blamed a “coordinated social engineering attack,” which implies that Twitter employees were tricked into unwittingly helping the hackers.
Motherboard reports that an employee inside Twitter was allegedly convinced to participate in the recent wave of high-profile accounts being hijacked. Leaked screenshots obtained by Motherboard from two sources who hijacked the accounts appear to confirm that the hack was made possible by compromising an employee at the company.
The accounts hijacked include Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden, Former President Barack Obama, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and the official accounts of ride-sharing service Uber and tech giant Apple. One source who alleges to be behind the attack told Motherboard directly, “We used a rep that literally done all the work for us,” adding that the hackers used a Twitter insider that they paid.
Motherboard granted the sources anonymity in exchange for details on how the hack was performed. A Twiter spokesperson told Motherboard that the company is investigating whether the employee hijacked the account directly or simply gave the hackers access to internal Twitter account tools.
Two sources in the hacking community told Motherboard that internal Twitter tools were used to change ownership of prominent “OG” Twitter accounts, which are accounts that have a username consisting of only one or two characters and are often seen as quite valuable.
Twitter has alleged in a tweet that the hack was the result of a “coordinated social engineer attack:”
Social engineering in this sense is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as: “the use of deception to manipulate individuals into divulging confidential or personal information that may be used for fraudulent purposes.”
This would imply that an internal company employee was tricked into providing hackers with details they could use to gain access to the accounts, while sources told Motherboard that Twitter employees were paid for access.
Republican Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) wrote a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey within one hour of the breach requesting further information about the hack including how it occurred, how many accounts were affected, and whether President Trump’s account would be affected. Hawley said: “Please reach out immediately to the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation and take any necessary measures to secure the site before this breach expands.”
It is currently unknown what level of access hackers had to accounts and whether private information such as users’ Direct Messages could be accessed. This is not the first time that Twitter has dealt with a similar issue. It was previously reported that two former Twitter employees abused their access to user accounts to gather intelligence for the Saudi government, according to the Justice Department.