After the hack targeting high profile people on Twitter earlier in the week, social media platforms have come to be in the spotlight.
Hackers gained access to accounts belonging to former US president, Barack Obama, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Kanye West and four others, in what seemed to be a Bitcoin scam. The hackers used the accounts to solicit Bitcoins from thousands of Twitter users, and allegedly gained over $100,000 worth in less than 30 minutes.
“I am giving back to my community due to Covid-19! All Bitcoin sent to my address below will be sent back doubled. If you send $1,000, I will send back $2,000! Only doing this for the next 30 minutes! Enjoy.,” Obama’s account tweeted
The incident left millions of social media users in shock, given that the access has been gained internally. Twitter said in response to the attack, that the hackers somehow succeeded to access some administrative privileges.
“We detected what we believe to be a co-ordinated social-engineering attack by people who successfully targeted some of our employees with access to internal systems and tools,” Twitter said.
This level of security breach comes with enormous consequences that reach beyond social media. Twitter has become a choice platform for powerful people in politics and business. The influence of many users of the app has a significant impact on how political and business world fares.
Twitter stock went down Wednesday, losing $1.3 billion in market value following the incident. But that’s not where the major concern lies; the political implication wields heavier consequences.
On Thursday the FBI launched an investigation into the matter as questions from governments around the world poured in. The Bureau, like many others, believes there is more to the hack than bitcoin scam, and urged everyone to be vigilant.
The US Senate Commerce committee has demanded Twitter brief it about the incident by July 23. The UK’s National Cyber Security Center has also reached out to Twitter and urged users to treat requests for money and sensitive information on social media with extreme caution.
“We are aware of a cyber attack on Twitter and have reached out to the company.
“While this appears to be an attack on the company rather than individual users, we would urge people to treat requests for money or sensitive information on social media with extreme caution,” it said in a statement.
Senator Roger Wicker, chair of the Senate Commerce committee wrote to Twitter expressing concern over the development.
“It cannot be overstated how troubling this incident is, both in its effects and in the apparent failure of Twitter’s internal controls to prevent it,” he said.
Twitter said on Thursday that more than 130 accounts were targeted in the attack, and subsequent findings revealed that hackers were able to initiate password reset for 45 of those accounts. The firm said it is working with the owners of the impacted accounts to determine “whether non-public data related to these accounts were compromised.”
The social media platform has been working with the FBI to determine further intent. On Saturday, it confirmed that there was more than a Bitcoin scam.
“For up to eight of the Twitter accounts involved, the attackers took the additional step of downloading the account’s information through our “Your Twitter Data” tool.”
Twitter said the investigation is still ongoing. But with the establishment of information download from users’ accounts, it is becoming clear that the objective of the hackers goes beyond Bitcoin.
With the US election coming in November, the concern is growing there could be a repetition of the 2016 alleged interference by Russia. Social media platforms have been at the center of controversies concerning political misinformation, as it is believed to be a tactic usually deployed by external forces to influence the elections.
Though the Twitter account of Donald Trump was not compromised the sophistication of the security breach exposes how vulnerable the social media platforms are, and how easily they can be used to manipulate people.
The usual suspect, Russia, has been fingered. It is believed that the hack could be a test-run of a major attack to compromise the US elections.
“We already know Russia is planning to meddle in the 2020 election just as they did in the 2016 election,” said Dr. Heather Williams, from King’s College London. “Social media manipulation is one of their favorite tools. So this hack shows just how vulnerable social-media platforms are and how vulnerable Americans are to disinformation.
“If something bigger was at stake, such as the presidency, this could have really disastrous consequences and undermine our democratic process.”
It is not yet known if sensitive information is downloaded by the hackers, but the hack has brought the ability of social media platforms to protect users’ privacy into serious questions.
Dr. Drew who recently co-authored a paper warning about the possibility of Twitter being used for disinformation said the platform has not done enough to protect users.
“Social media companies such as Twitter and Facebook all have a duty to consider the damage and influence their platforms can have on the 2020 election. Twitter actually has a good history of being forward-thinking and proactive in this space. But whatever the source of this attack [it seems they have] still not done enough,” she said.
On the other hand, social media platforms have a reputation that could be marred by what happens to the privacy of users. William Dixon, World Economic Forum cyber lead said of the hack: “Twitter reputation is the cost of this cyber-attack.”