People

Control issues: How Twitter is forcing companies to rethink security and access

For a few hours last week, Twitter lost control of its platform. While the outcome could have been much worse, it's a wake-up call for anyone managing information security and employee access to data.

An iPhone with the Twitter logo on the screen.

As more and more companies move critical applications to cloud services and use third-party enterprise software tools, modern identity management software has become a very important part of the tech department's toolkit.

Photo: Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash
Twitter's harrowing security incident last week is a good reminder that many companies need to reassess the internal controls governing access to their tools and data, because it's never been harder to stop the bad guys at the perimeter.

For administrators at a big, very visible company like Twitter, it's not if your network defenses will be penetrated; it's when. It took Twitter several hours to regain control of its systems Wednesday after a small group of hackers were able to obtain the login credentials of a Twitter staffer and commandeer its account tools.

Twitter's experience was an extreme one, and while we don't know exactly how much information was compromised, the outcome could have been much, much worse. But it's clear that steps taken to improve controls in the aftermath of two other high-profile incidents — a 2010 settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over account access issues and the 2018 indictment of two employees who were spying for the Saudi Arabian government — were not enough, and there are lessons for everyone in the aftermath.

In a blog post Monday, security expert Bruce Schneier called the Twitter incident a "class break," describing this category as "security vulnerabilities that break not just one system, but an entire class of systems." "Class breaks are endemic to computerized systems," he wrote, "and they're not something that we as users can defend against with better personal security."

As more and more companies move critical applications to cloud services and use third-party enterprise software tools, modern identity management software has become a very important part of the tech department's toolkit. This need has only accelerated in a pandemic, during which so many employees are working from their home networks and outside of the traditional defenses around corporate networks.

Software from companies like Okta allows workers to securely access the internal corporate applications they need to do their jobs with "single sign-on" technology, sort of like a password manager for work. Then, once workers pass that test, other tools are needed that grant certain people access only to specific data sets or controls, so that one breach doesn't open up the entire company to an attacker.

At Twitter, lots of employees have access to user accounts. Any attempt to provide customer service requires that, to some extent, but it's also clear that the company needs to consider additional controls, such as requiring two employees to sign off on proposed changes to prominent user accounts.

Companies also need to move past the idea that a user who has entered the proper login credentials is a valid user — the so-called "zero trust" approach. The central idea here is paranoia: No person or device should be automatically trusted outside or inside a network, and Google pioneered this line of thinking over the last decade with an internal service called BeyondCorp.

It's not clear what type of approach is in place at Twitter, but the company has been operating without a chief information security officer in 2020, according to The Wall Street Journal. That vacancy will likely be filled in short order, and like lots of companies re-evaluating their internal processes in the wake of this incident, one of that person's first jobs will be to rethink how Twitter manages identity and access to its systems.

Fintech

Judge Zia Faruqui is trying to teach you crypto, one ‘SNL’ reference at a time

His decisions on major cryptocurrency cases have quoted "The Big Lebowski," "SNL," and "Dr. Strangelove." That’s because he wants you — yes, you — to read them.

The ways Zia Faruqui (right) has weighed on cases that have come before him can give lawyers clues as to what legal frameworks will pass muster.

Photo: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“Cryptocurrency and related software analytics tools are ‘The wave of the future, Dude. One hundred percent electronic.’”

That’s not a quote from "The Big Lebowski" — at least, not directly. It’s a quote from a Washington, D.C., district court memorandum opinion on the role cryptocurrency analytics tools can play in government investigations. The author is Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui.

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Veronica Irwin

Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol covering fintech. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc.

The financial technology transformation is driving competition, creating consumer choice, and shaping the future of finance. Hear from seven fintech leaders who are reshaping the future of finance, and join the inaugural Financial Technology Association Fintech Summit to learn more.

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FTA
The Financial Technology Association (FTA) represents industry leaders shaping the future of finance. We champion the power of technology-centered financial services and advocate for the modernization of financial regulation to support inclusion and responsible innovation.
Enterprise

AWS CEO: The cloud isn’t just about technology

As AWS preps for its annual re:Invent conference, Adam Selipsky talks product strategy, support for hybrid environments, and the value of the cloud in uncertain economic times.

Photo: Noah Berger/Getty Images for Amazon Web Services

AWS is gearing up for re:Invent, its annual cloud computing conference where announcements this year are expected to focus on its end-to-end data strategy and delivering new industry-specific services.

It will be the second re:Invent with CEO Adam Selipsky as leader of the industry’s largest cloud provider after his return last year to AWS from data visualization company Tableau Software.

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Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Image: Protocol

We launched Protocol in February 2020 to cover the evolving power center of tech. It is with deep sadness that just under three years later, we are winding down the publication.

As of today, we will not publish any more stories. All of our newsletters, apart from our flagship, Source Code, will no longer be sent. Source Code will be published and sent for the next few weeks, but it will also close down in December.

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Bennett Richardson

Bennett Richardson ( @bennettrich) is the president of Protocol. Prior to joining Protocol in 2019, Bennett was executive director of global strategic partnerships at POLITICO, where he led strategic growth efforts including POLITICO's European expansion in Brussels and POLITICO's creative agency POLITICO Focus during his six years with the company. Prior to POLITICO, Bennett was co-founder and CMO of Hinge, the mobile dating company recently acquired by Match Group. Bennett began his career in digital and social brand marketing working with major brands across tech, energy, and health care at leading marketing and communications agencies including Edelman and GMMB. Bennett is originally from Portland, Maine, and received his bachelor's degree from Colgate University.

Enterprise

Why large enterprises struggle to find suitable platforms for MLops

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, and as larger enterprises go from deploying hundreds of models to thousands and even millions of models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

Photo: artpartner-images via Getty Images

On any given day, Lily AI runs hundreds of machine learning models using computer vision and natural language processing that are customized for its retail and ecommerce clients to make website product recommendations, forecast demand, and plan merchandising. But this spring when the company was in the market for a machine learning operations platform to manage its expanding model roster, it wasn’t easy to find a suitable off-the-shelf system that could handle such a large number of models in deployment while also meeting other criteria.

Some MLops platforms are not well-suited for maintaining even more than 10 machine learning models when it comes to keeping track of data, navigating their user interfaces, or reporting capabilities, Matthew Nokleby, machine learning manager for Lily AI’s product intelligence team, told Protocol earlier this year. “The duct tape starts to show,” he said.

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Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

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