Twitter Inc on Wednesday was investigating a massive hack in which high-profile users from Elon Musk to former US vice president Joe Biden had their accounts hijacked by scammers, who the social network believes targeted its employees to gain access to internal systems.
Posts trying to dupe people into sending hackers the cryptocurrency bitcoin were added to the accounts of Apple Inc, Uber Technologies Inc, Kanye West, Bill Gates, former US president Barack Obama and many others.
“We detected what we believe to be a coordinated social engineering attack by people who successfully targeted some of our employees with access to internal systems and tools,” Twitter said.
“They used this access to take control of many highly-visible ... accounts,” the company said, adding that it was investigating “what other malicious activity they may have conducted or information they may have accessed.”
The fraudulent posts, which were largely deleted, said people had 30 minutes to send US$1,000 in bitcoin, promising they would receive twice as much in return.
A total of 12.58 bitcoin — almost US$116,000 — were sent to e-mail addresses mentioned in the posts, according to Blockchain.com, which monitors cryptocurrency transactions.
“Tough day for us at Twitter,” chief executive Jack Dorsey wrote. “We all feel terrible this happened. We’re diagnosing and will share everything we can when we have a more complete understanding of exactly what happened.”
Twitter said that it had locked down the affected accounts and removed the hackers’ posts.
“Most accounts should be able to Tweet again,” the Twitter support team said in an evening update, but the firm also told users that it “may take further actions and will update you if we do.”
US President Donald Trump’s Twitter account, which has more than 83 million followers, was not among those targeted, but many specialist bitcoin firms were.
“All major crypto Twitter accounts have been compromised,” Cameron Winklevoss, cofounder of the Gemini cryptocurrency exchange, wrote on Twitter. “This is a SCAM, DO NOT participate!”
Vice News reported that a Twitter insider was responsible, citing leaked screen shots and two anonymous sources apparently behind the hack, one of whom told the media outlet they had paid the employee.
US Senator Josh Hawley posted on Twitter a letter to Dorsey expressing concern over privacy for the San Francisco-based company’s millions of users worldwide.
“I am concerned that this event may represent not merely a coordinated set of separate hacking incidents but rather a successful attack on the security of Twitter itself,” Hawley said.
BitTorrent Inc chief executive Justin Sun was offering a US$1 million reward for bringing the hackers to justice, reports said.
The post that appeared on Tesla Inc founder Musk’s feed said: “Happy Wednesday! I am giving back Bitcoin to all of my followers. I am doubling all payments sent to the Bitcoin address below. You send 0.1 BTC, I send 0.2 BTC back!”
It added that the offer was “only going on for 30 minutes.”
The fake messages that appeared on other famous accounts made similar promises of instant riches.
The BBC reported that a Web site address in some of the duplicitous tweets had been registered under the name “Anthony Elias,” which appeared to be a play on the words “an alias.”
Twitter has been targeted by hackers in the past.
In March 2017, the accounts of Amnesty International, the French Ministry of the Economy and Finance and the BBC’s North America service were broken into by hackers believed to have been loyal to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In August last year, a series of insulting or racist messages were posted on Dorsey’s personal Twitter account without his knowledge.
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