FBI joins Twitter hacker hunt after prominent accounts hijacked

Top legislators on Capitol Hill told Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to brief committee staff members on the hack by next week.

A combination photo shows L-R: Bill Gates in Washington on April 18, 2016, Warren Buffett, in New York on September 8, 2015 and Jeff Bezos in New York on December 2, 2014 respectively.
Among others, the Twitter accounts of (L-R) Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft Corporation, Warren Buffett, the chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway Inc and Jeff Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon.com Inc have been hacked as part of a cryptocurrency fraud.

The FBI’s San Francisco office said on Thursday it has launched an investigation after hackers accessed Twitter’s internal systems to hijack accounts of high-profile people such as US presidential candidate Joe Biden, reality TV star Kim Kardashian, former US President Barack Obama and billionaire Elon Musk and used them to solicit digital currency.

“At this time, the accounts appear to have been compromised in order to perpetuate cryptocurrency fraud,” the FBI said in a statement. “We advise the public not to fall victim to this scam by sending cryptocurrency or money in relation to this incident. As this investigation is ongoing, we will not be making further comment at this time.”

Around 130 accounts were targeted, Twitter said in a statement published on Friday, adding that “for a small subset” of these profiles, the attackers were able to gain control and then send Tweets from those accounts. 

It added that it was continuing to assess whether the attackers were able to access private data of the targeted accounts.

US legislators worried about future attacks.

“While this scheme appears financially motivated…imagine if these bad actors had a different intent to use powerful voices to spread disinformation to potentially interfere with our elections, disrupt the stock market, or upset our international relations,” US Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat, said in a statement.

Echoing a similar sentiment, Representative Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, asked what would happen if Twitter allowed a similar incident to occur on November 2, a day before the US presidential election.

Jordan said he remained locked out of his Twitter account as of Thursday morning and said his confidence in how the company operates has been deteriorating.

The chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, Republican Roger Wicker, expressed similar concerns and asked Twitter Inc to brief committee staff by next week.

In a letter to Twitter Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey on Thursday, Wicker said 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”. Wicker added it is “not difficult to imagine future attacks being used to spread disinformation or otherwise sow discord through high-profile accounts, particularly through those of world leaders”.

Twitter Inc said hackers had targeted employees with access to its internal systems and “used this access to take control of many highly-visible (including verified) accounts and Tweet on their behalf”.

Other high-profile accounts that were hacked included rapper Kanye West, Amazon.com Inc founder Jeff Bezos, investor Warren Buffett, Microsoft Corp co-founder Bill Gates, and the corporate accounts for Uber Technologies Inc and Apple Inc.

In an extraordinary step, it temporarily prevented many verified accounts from publishing messages as it investigated the breach.

The hijacked accounts tweeted out messages telling users to send bitcoin and their money would be doubled. Publicly available blockchain records show that the apparent scammers received more than $100,000 worth of cryptocurrency.

Twitter’s shares fell a little more than 1 percent on Thursday afternoon.

CEO Dorsey said in a tweet on Wednesday it was a “tough day” for everyone at Twitter and pledged to share “everything we can when we have a more complete understanding of exactly what happened”.

Dorsey’s assurances did not assuage Washington’s concerns about social media companies, whose policies have come under scrutiny by critics on both the left and the right.

Democratic Senator Mark Warner called on Twitter and law enforcement to investigate the matter while the US House Intelligence Committee said it was in touch with Twitter regarding the hack, according to a committee official who did not wish to be named.

Republican Senator Josh Hawley wrote a letter to Dorsey within minutes of the hack and asked about potential data theft and whether the breach affected select users or the security of the platform overall.

Frank Pallone, a Democrat who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee that oversees a sizeable portion of US tech policy, said in a tweet the company “needs to explain how all of these prominent accounts were hacked”.

The New York State Department of Financial Services also weighed in, saying it will investigate the hack.

Source: News Agencies