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Hackers took over Twitter after 'a coordinated social engineering attack' on employees

The accounts of Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Joe Biden and many more were compromised. But a lot of unanswered questions remain.

Hackers took over Twitter after 'a coordinated social engineering attack' on employees

"You may be unable to Tweet or reset your password while we review and address this incident," tweeted the official Twitter Support account.

Image: Protocol

Twitter acknowledged Wednesday evening that a third party was able to target its employees with "social engineering" techniques to gain control of the accounts of some of its most prominent users, uncorking a Bitcoin scam and sending the internet into a tizzy for several hours.

"We detected what we believe to be a coordinated social engineering attack by people who successfully targeted some of our employees with access to internal systems and tools," Twitter said through its Twitter Support account hours after the first hijacked tweets were sent. "We know they used this access to take control of many highly visible (including verified) accounts and Tweet on their behalf."

The accounts of Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Joe Biden, Kanye West, Kim Kardashian-West and a number of other major figures in tech, media and politics began tweeting out the same message midafternoon on the West Coast, urging their combined tens of millions followers to donate thousands of dollars in Bitcoin to a mystery account.

Shortly thereafter, verified users lost the ability to post. Unverified users began celebrating with tweets and GIFs. "The revolution will be unverified," one Twitter user wrote.

The block on verified accounts prevented major news organizations, federal agencies, police departments and state governments from tweeting out information.

Most of the messages, which began with the phrase "I am giving back to the community," promised to double the donations of anyone who sent Bitcoin to a particular wallet. Within hours, more than 300 people had sent more than $110,000.

More than an hour after the hacks began, scam tweets were still being sent from the accounts of additional celebrities. "We have locked accounts that were compromised and will restore access to the original account owner only when we are certain we can do so securely," Twitter Support said late Wednesday.

A key question Twitter will need to answer in the coming days and weeks is not just how this breach occurred, but also how much access the hackers had to those users' accounts. The collateral damage could be infinitely larger, for instance, if the hackers had a window into these people's direct messages.

"Internally, we've taken significant steps to limit access to internal systems and tools while our investigation is ongoing. More updates to come as our investigation continues," Twitter Support said late Wednesday.

The Biden campaign told Protocol in a statement, "Twitter locked down the account immediately following the breach and removed the related tweet. We remain in touch with Twitter on the matter." The campaign didn't immediately respond to a question about whether it had two-factor authentication enabled.

Shortly after the breach, Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri sent a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey demanding answers about the scope of the damage and asking Dorsey to contact the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigations for help looking into the matter. "I am concerned that this event may represent not merely a coordinated set of separate hacking incidents but rather a successful attack on the security of Twitter itself," the letter reads. "A successful attack on your system's servers represents a threat to all of your users' privacy and data security."

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey addressed the hack in a tweet earlier Wednesday evening, but it didn't explain much. "Tough day for us at Twitter," Dorsey wrote. "We all feel terrible this happened. We're diagnosing and will share everything we can when we have a more complete understanding of exactly what happened." He ended with a blue heart emoji for "our teammates working hard to make this right."

Update: This post was updated at 8:15 p.m. PT with more information from Twitter Support.

The metaverse is coming, and Robinhood's IPO is here

Plus, what we learned from Big Tech's big quarter.

Image: Roblox

On this episode of the Source Code podcast: First, a few takeaways from another blockbuster quarter in the tech industry. Then, Janko Roettgers joins the show to discuss Big Tech's obsession with the metaverse and the platform war that seems inevitable. Finally, Ben Pimentel talks about Robinhood's IPO, and the company's crazy route to the public markets.

For more on the topics in this episode:

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

After a year and a half of living and working through a pandemic, it's no surprise that employees are sending out stress signals at record rates. According to a 2021 study by Indeed, 52% of employees today say they feel burnt out. Over half of employees report working longer hours, and a quarter say they're unable to unplug from work.

The continued swell of reported burnout is a concerning trend for employers everywhere. Not only does it harm mental health and well-being, but it can also impact absenteeism, employee retention and — between the drain on morale and high turnover — your company culture.

Crisis management is one thing, but how do you permanently lower the temperature so your teams can recover sustainably? Companies around the world are now taking larger steps to curb burnout, with industry leaders like LinkedIn, Hootsuite and Bumble shutting down their offices for a full week to allow all employees extra time off. The CEO of Okta, worried about burnout, asked all employees to email him their vacation plans in 2021.

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Stella Garber
Stella Garber is Trello's Head of Marketing. Stella has led Marketing at Trello for the last seven years from early stage startup all the way through its acquisition by Atlassian in 2017 and beyond. Stella was an early champion of remote work, having led remote teams for the last decade plus.

Facebook wants to be like Snapchat

Facebook is looking to make posts disappear, Google wants to make traffic reports more accurate, and more patents from Big Tech.

Facebook has ephemeral posts on its mind.

Image: Protocol

Welcome to another week of Big Tech patents. Google wants to make traffic reports more accurate, Amazon wants to make voice assistants more intelligent, Microsoft wants to make scheduling meetings more convenient, and a ton more.

As always, remember that the big tech companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the future

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Karyne Levy

Karyne Levy ( @karynelevy) is the West Coast editor at Protocol. Before joining Protocol, Karyne was a senior producer at Scribd, helping to create the original content program. Prior to that she was an assigning editor at NerdWallet, a senior tech editor at Business Insider, and the assistant managing editor at CNET, where she also hosted Rumor Has It for CNET TV. She lives outside San Francisco with her wife, son and lots of pets.

Protocol | China

China’s edtech crackdown isn’t what you think. Here’s why.

It's part of an attempt to fix education inequality and address a looming demographic crisis.

In the past decade, China's private tutoring market has expanded rapidly as it's been digitized and bolstered by capital.

Photo: Getty Images

Beijing's strike against the private tutoring and ed tech industry has rattled the market and led observers to try to answer one big question: What is Beijing trying to achieve?

Sweeping policy guidelines issued by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party on July 24 and the State Council now mandate that existing private tutoring companies register as nonprofit organizations. Extracurricular tutoring companies will be banned from going public. Online tutoring agencies will be subject to regulatory approval.

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Shen Lu

Shen Lu is a reporter with Protocol | China. She has spent six years covering China from inside and outside its borders. Previously, she was a fellow at Asia Society's ChinaFile and a Beijing-based producer for CNN. Her writing has appeared in Foreign Policy, The New York Times and POLITICO, among other publications. Shen Lu is a founding member of Chinese Storytellers, a community serving and elevating Chinese professionals in the global media industry.

It’s soul-destroying and it uses DRM, therefore Peloton is tech

"I mean, the pedals go around if you turn off all the tech, but Peloton isn't selling a pedaling product."

Is this tech? Or is it just a bike with a screen?

Image: Peloton and Protocol

One of the breakout hits from the pandemic, besides Taylor Swift's "Folklore," has been Peloton. With upwards of 5.4 million members as of March and nearly $1.3 billion in revenue that quarter, a lot of people are turning in their gym memberships for a bike or a treadmill and a slick-looking app.

But here at Protocol, it's that slick-looking app, plus all the tech that goes into it, that matters. And that's where things got really heated during our chat this week. Is Peloton tech? Or is it just a bike with a giant tablet on it? Can all bikes be tech with a little elbow grease?

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Karyne Levy

Karyne Levy ( @karynelevy) is the West Coast editor at Protocol. Before joining Protocol, Karyne was a senior producer at Scribd, helping to create the original content program. Prior to that she was an assigning editor at NerdWallet, a senior tech editor at Business Insider, and the assistant managing editor at CNET, where she also hosted Rumor Has It for CNET TV. She lives outside San Francisco with her wife, son and lots of pets.

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