Power

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.

Diversity Tracker

Tech company diversity reports are more important than ever

More tech companies released their reports following the murder of George Floyd in 2020.

Tech companies started reporting their own numbers around 2014.

Photo: SCC/Getty Images

Years after most tech companies had been publishing diversity reports, Snap's CEO Evan Spiegel remained steadfast about not releasing his company's numbers. "I've always been concerned that releasing that data publicly only reinforces the perception that tech is not a place for underrepresented groups," he said during an all-hands in June 2020 after years of only releasing a report internally.

A few months later, Snap, one of the most vocal diversity report holdouts, became part of a second wave of companies that started releasing diversity data. Following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, others like Tesla and Oracle — which was facing a shareholder resolution on more transparency — also publicly released diversity reports. Netflix, although it had been posting diversity data on its jobs page quarterly since 2013, also released its first formal inclusion report in 2021.

Keep Reading Show less
Biz Carson

Biz Carson ( @bizcarson) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol, covering Silicon Valley with a focus on startups and venture capital. Previously, she reported for Forbes and was co-editor of Forbes Next Billion-Dollar Startups list. Before that, she worked for Business Insider, Gigaom, and Wired and started her career as a newspaper designer for Gannett.

If you've ever tried to pick up a new fitness routine like running, chances are you may have fallen into the "motivation vs. habit" trap once or twice. You go for a run when the sun is shining, only to quickly fall off the wagon when the weather turns sour.

Similarly, for many businesses, 2020 acted as the storm cloud that disrupted their plans for innovation. With leaders busy grappling with the pandemic, innovation frequently got pushed to the backburner. In fact, according to McKinsey, the majority of organizations shifted their focus mainly to maintaining business continuity throughout the pandemic.

Keep Reading Show less
Gaurav Kataria
Group Product Manager, Trello at Atlassian
Diversity Tracker

The tech industry needs to standardize diversity reports

No tech firm reports diversity the same way. That makes tracking progress harder.

Tech lacks a standard, comprehensive method of reporting and presenting employee demographic data.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Diversity reports don't always tell the full story of what representation looks like at tech companies.

The earliest versions of tech industry diversity reports created a binary narrative about diversity and inclusion, according to Bo Young Lee, Uber's chief diversity officer. The reports, which tech companies began consistently releasing in 2014, communicated that "diversity is about gender representation, and it's about race and ethnicity, and it's about nothing else," Lee told Protocol.

Keep Reading Show less
Megan Rose Dickey

Megan Rose Dickey is a senior reporter at Protocol covering labor and diversity in tech. Prior to joining Protocol, she was a senior reporter at TechCrunch and a reporter at Business Insider.

Protocol | Workplace

Introducing Protocol’s Diversity Tracker

Tech companies talk a good game on diversity. Our new tracker shows where there's progress – and where there isn't.

Our tracker contains historical and current diversity data for the most powerful tech companies.
Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol
Protocol team

A new media company from the publisher of POLITICO reporting on the people, power and politics of tech.

Protocol | Workplace

Productivity apps can’t stop making money

ClickUp had one of the biggest Series C funding rounds ever. Here's how it matches up to the other productivity unicorns.

ClickUp made $400 million in its series C funding round.

Photo: ClickUp

Productivity platform ClickUp announced a milestone today. The company raised $400 million, which is one of the biggest series C funding rounds in the workplace productivity market ever. The round, led by Andreessen Horowitz and Tiger Global, put the private company at a $4 billion valuation post-money.

In case it's not clear: This is a massive amount of money. It shows how hot the productivity space is right now, with some predicting the market size could reach almost $120 billion by 2028. In a world of hybrid workers, all-in-one tool platforms are all the rage among both startups and productivity stalwarts. Companies everywhere want to escape tool overwhelm, where work is spread across dozens of apps.

Keep Reading Show less
Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

Latest Stories