Hackers involved in the hijacking of Twitter accounts earlier this week were young pals with no links to state or organized crime, the New York Times (NYT) reported on Friday.
The attack, which Twitter and US federal police are investigating, started with a playful message between hackers on the platform Discord, a chat service popular with gamers, according to NYT.
The paper said it had interviewed four people who participated in the hacking, who shared logs and screenshots backing up their accounts of what happened.
“The interviews indicate that the attack was not the work of a single country like Russia or a sophisticated group of hackers,” the NYT reported. “Instead, it was done by a group of young people — one of whom says he lives at home with his mother — who got to know one another because of their obsession with owning early or unusual screen names, particularly one letter or number, like @y or @6.”
The massive hack of high-profile users from Tesla chief executive Elon Musk to former US vice president Joe Biden has raised questions about Twitter’s security, as it serves as a megaphone for US politicians ahead of November’s US presidential election.
“Based on what we know right now, we believe approximately 130 accounts were targeted by the attackers in some way as part of the incident,” Twitter said in a tweet. “For a small subset of these accounts, the attackers were able to gain control of the accounts and then send Tweets from those accounts.”
Posts trying to dupe people into sending hackers bitcoin were on Wednesday tweeted by the official accounts of Apple, Uber, Kanye West, Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates, former US president Barack Obama and many others.
Twitter said it appeared to be a “coordinated social engineering attack by people who successfully targeted some of our employees with access to internal systems and tools.”
Fraudulent posts, which were largely deleted, said that people had 30 minutes to send US$1,000 in bitcoin, promising they would receive twice as much in return.
More than US$100,000 of bitcoin was sent to e-mail addresses mentioned in the tweets, according to Blockchain.com, which monitors crypto transactions.
The young hackers interviewed by the NYT said that a mysterious user who went by the name “Kirk” initiated the scheme with a message and was the one with access to Twitter accounts.
They said they were only involved in commandeering lesser-known Twitter accounts, particularly to swipe coveted short handles, such as an “@” sign and single letters or numbers, that could easily be sold, according to the report.
The hackers said they stopped serving as intermediary for “Kirk” when high-profile accounts became targets.
Some hackers are “obsessed” with hijacking “original gangster” (OG) social media accounts staked out in the services’ early days that have short profile names, said Brian Krebs of the blog Krebs on Security.
“Possession of these OG accounts confers a measure of status and perceived influence and wealth in SIM-swapping circles, as such accounts can often fetch thousands of dollars when resold in the underground,” Krebs said in a post.
Hackers involved in the attack on Twitter advertised account names at the OGusers.com Web site, asking for payment in bitcoin, the NYT reported.
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