Twitter temporarily disabled broad swaths of its service on Wednesday after suffering an unprecedented hack that used high-profile accounts to spread a cryptocurrency scam.
The accounts of Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos, and Bill Gates were among those targeted by what Twitter described as “a coordinated social engineering attack by people who successfully targeted some of our employees with access to internal systems and tools.”
The online magazine Motherboard reported that a Twitter insider collaborated in the attack, citing sources who said the accounts were taken over using an internal tool at Twitter.
“We all feel terrible this happened,” Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said. “We’re diagnosing and will share everything we can when we have a more complete understanding of exactly what happened.”
In response to the attack, Twitter blocked verified accounts from tweeting for about two hours. It was apparently the first action of that kind that the company has taken in its history.
According to CNN, “The sheer number of prominent accounts impacted made it arguably the biggest security incident in Twitter’s history. A hack like this is particularly concerning not just because of any financial scam that can be run, but because so many world leaders use Twitter.”
Tweets sent through the compromised accounts promised to match or even triple any bitcoin funds that were sent to the bitcoin wallet of the account holder. By Wednesday evening, the bitcoin wallets promoted in the tweets had received more than 300 transactions and bitcoin worth more than $100,000.
“Bitcoin is a popular vehicle for this type of scam because once a victim sends money, the design of bitcoin, with no institution in charge, makes it essentially impossible to recover the funds,” The New York Times noted.
Cybersecurity experts said the Twitter hack showed how vulnerable social media remains to attacks.
“This demonstrates a real risk for the elections,” Alex Stamos, director of the Stanford Internet Observatory, told the Times. “Twitter has become the most important platform when it comes to discussion among political elites, and it has real vulnerabilities.”