1,000 Twitter workers had access to internal tools that hackers could exploit

(Reuters) — As of earlier this 12 months, greater than a thousand Twitter staff and contractors had entry to inner instruments that might change person account settings and hand management to others, two former staff mentioned, making it exhausting to defend in opposition to the hacking that occurred last week.

Twitter and the FBI are investigating the breach that allowed hackers to repeatedly tweet from verified accounts of the likes of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, billionaire philanthropist Invoice Gates, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

Twitter mentioned on Saturday that the perpetrators “manipulated a small variety of staff and used their credentials” to log into instruments and switch over entry to 45 accounts. On Wednesday, the corporate mentioned that the hackers might have learn direct messages to and from 36 accounts, however it didn’t establish the affected customers.

The previous staff conversant in Twitter safety practices mentioned that too many individuals might have performed the identical factor, greater than 1,000 as of earlier in 2020, together with some at contractors like Cognizant.

Twitter declined to touch upon that determine and wouldn’t say whether or not the quantity had declined earlier than the hack or since. The corporate was on the lookout for a brand new safety head, working to raised safe its techniques and coaching staff on resisting methods from outsiders, Twitter mentioned. Cognizant didn’t reply to a request for remark.

“That appears like there are too many individuals with entry,” mentioned Edward Amoroso, former chief safety officer at AT&T. Tasks among the many workers ought to have been cut up up, with entry rights restricted to these tasks and a couple of individual required to comply with take advantage of delicate account adjustments. “So as to do cybersecurity proper, you’ll be able to’t overlook the boring stuff.”

Threats from insiders, particularly lower-paid outdoors assist workers, are a continuing fear for firms serving giant numbers of customers, cybersecurity specialists mentioned. They mentioned that the larger the quantity of people that can change key settings, the stronger oversight have to be.


The previous staff mentioned that Twitter had gotten higher about logging the exercise of its individuals within the wake of earlier stumbles, together with searches of data by an worker accused final November of spying for the federal government of Saudi Arabia.

However whereas logging helps with investigations, solely alarms or fixed opinions can flip logs into one thing that may forestall breaches.

Former Cisco Techniques chief safety officer John Stewart mentioned firms with broad entry have to undertake a protracted sequence of mitigations and “in the end [ensure] that essentially the most highly effective licensed individuals are solely doing what they’re purported to be doing.”

Who precisely pulled off the hacking spree isn’t clear, however outdoors researchers reminiscent of Allison Nixon of Unit 221B say the incident seems linked to a cluster of cybercriminals who commonly traded in novelty handles — particularly uncommon one- or two-character account names — which might be a bit just like the vainness license plates of the net world.

Though the general public proof tying the hacking to these people was circumstantial, ultra-short Twitter handles had been among the many first to be hijacked.

As well as, the boards the place these hackers had been lively have lengthy been replete with boasts about gaining access to Twitter insiders, in line with Nixon and Nick Bax, an analyst with StopSIMCrime, a gaggle that lobbies for larger safety in opposition to “SIM swapping” — a cellphone quantity hijacking approach typically utilized by these sorts of hackers.

Bax mentioned he had seen reference on boards to “Twitter plugs” or “Twitter reps” — the phrases used to explain cooperative Twitter staff — since way back to 2017.

The potential involvement of low-level cybercriminals has notably alarmed professionals due to the implication {that a} hostile authorities would possibly have the ability to trigger even larger havoc.

Entry to accounts for nationwide leaders was restricted to a a lot smaller variety of individuals after a rogue worker briefly deleted President Donald Trump’s account two years in the past. That would clarify why Biden’s account was hijacked however not Trump’s.

Twitter ought to develop the variety of protected accounts, mentioned former Twitter safety engineer John Adams. Amongst different issues, accounts with greater than 10,000 followers ought to at the very least want two individuals to alter key settings.

Safety specialists mentioned they had been fearful that Twitter has an excessive amount of work to do and too little time earlier than the marketing campaign for the November three U.S. election intensifies, with potential interference domestically and from different nations.

Mentioned Ron Gula, a cybersecurity investor who cofounded community safety firm Tenable, “The query actually is: Does Twitter do sufficient to stop account takeovers for our presidential candidates and information retailers when confronted with subtle threats that leverage whole-of-nation approaches?”

On a name to debate firm earnings on Thursday, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey acknowledged previous missteps.

“We fell behind, each in our protections in opposition to social engineering of our staff and restrictions on our inner instruments,” Dorsey advised buyers.

(Reporting by Joseph Menn and Katie Paul in San Francisco and Raphael Satter in Washington. Enhancing by Greg Mitchell and Grant McCool.)

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