The morning of 16th July in Bharat, people woke up to a massive twitter hack. The twitter accounts of people such as Elon Musk of Tesla, Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Bill Gates of Microsoft and Warren Buffet were hacked. These are among the richest people in the world! Hackers also took over twitter accounts of Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Mike Bloomberg and many others. All of these were verified accounts. The hack also targeted company accounts of Apple, Uber and many crypto currency related accounts.
Modus Operandi of this Twitter hack
People following Elon Musk on twitter would be already familiar with the modus operandi. Some replies, sometimes even by verified accounts, on tweets of Elon Musk claim to double the bitcoin in 30 minutes. You have to send bitcoins to them and they will send you right back.
Of course, this is a scam and too good to be true. However, when a billionaire says so, you are much more likely to believe it. Let us say a person like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet says it. They have a track record of generously donating to causes. Some people might actually believe it. Their verified accounts with the little blue tick gives them a halo of authority and in some cases infallibility.
So many people believed it, and apparently sent hundreds of thousands of dollars to the address given in the tweets. By the time Twitter acted, the hackers had already made a lot of money.
Where is the money going?
Good thing about bitcoin is that you can sometimes trace where the money is going. It is generally impossible to know who the beneficiary is, but the bitcoin address of the beneficiary is publicly available. In this great piece of research, it was found that there was a link between similar past bitcoin scams and Jihadis.
As this is a major breach, it will attract far closer scrutiny and hopefully people can expect some revelations in future. The money will almost certainly be laundered using a complex web of transactions to fool the investigation, but a determined effort can ultimately catch the culprits. It will not be a surprise if money trail leads to the leftist underground groups or Jihadis.
Twitter initially just deleted messages from such compromised accounts. The accounts retweeted such messages almost immediately. After it became much more widespread, Twitter limited the functionality of verified users. They could not send new tweets or reply etc. As of the time of writing this article, this functionality was restored in most cases.
What could be the future?
This massive twitter hack has raised questions on security of Twitter. It is not yet known from where this hack started. It is unlikely that hackers hacked into accounts of so many security-conscious people, many of whom work in hi-tech industry. What is more likely is that a third party Twitter client was hacked, and all accounts using that service may have been in control of hackers, but they used only high-value accounts. A possibility of an inside job cannot be denied. Someone, maybe a rouge employee, may have taken over Twitter’s own tools. This hack could result in profound changes in multiple areas:-
- It could mean stricter regulation of social media in some countries. The cheated may involve people of many countries, and as Twitter is a US company other countries might not be able to investigate this scam in a credible manner. This might lead to thinking that domestic social media ecosystem with data within the country is much safer. Already, many countries resent the domination of US companies in this space. Indeed, large countries like China and Russia already have a domestic social media ecosystem. This may be a push for social media companies from countries like Bharat.
- More countries could outlaw crypto-currencies. These cannot be controlled like national currencies and are not as much traceable due to minimal KYC requirements. As seen above, these have already been used in money laundering and terrorist financing. Indeed, in Bharat, RBI strongly discourages use of crypto-currencies.
- The policies of Twitter might also change in response to this attack. It could involve better monitoring of illegal activities, banning certain words on Twitter or more community involvement in containing such threats. The issue of security is also likely to feature in these changes. This hack was used for money, but it could have been used for far sinister purposes. Imagine Donald Trump declaring war through a tweet!
This twitter hack is unprecedented and seems almost unreal. It certainly will have profound implications for the future of digital security regime and may indeed reshape the digital world. It will be interesting to see what step Bharat takes for retaining its digital security and sovereignty.
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