Although probably still not as scandalous as Facebook’s involvement in the US political scene a few years back that opened a dozen cans of worms, the recent security incident at Twitter definitely has the social networking giant reeling from both the PR fallout as well as legal repercussions. Given its prominent role in today’s society, it’s not something it can silently sweep under a rug until everyone forgets and is most likely compelled to update the public on its ongoing investigations. Its recent update sheds more light on how hackers were even able to get hold of high-profile accounts and it pretty much puts the blame on employees that were unfortunately conned into helping those miscreants.
To some extent, Twitter is saying that the internal support and account management tools that were abused in this incident are fine on a technological level. The problem, however, is that its safeguards aren’t sophisticated enough to protect it from the one element that can’t directly be fixed with code or technologies: human vulnerability.
Twitter explains that hackers targeted a small number of employees with a phone spear-phishing social engineering tactic, a more sophisticated form of phishing that personally targets individuals by posing as someone or some entity they might actually know. While the initial batch of employees didn’t have direct access to Twitter’s internal tools, the hackers were still able to get glean some information from Twitter’s internal systems and processes enough to mislead more employees that did have access to those tools.
The result is history by now. 130 Twitter accounts were targeted, 45 of which were used to tweet scams. 36 accounts had their direct messages accessed and 7 had their Twitter Data downloaded. Twitter has been in contact with affected users and restored access to those locked out of their accounts. The investigation continues as it works with authorities to search for those responsible.
While this investigation is ongoing, however, Twitter will be updating its tools and systems to guard against this kind of attack. Unfortunately, that will be affecting much of its content moderation and user support processes. It says that downloading Twitter Data is currently impacted and responses to support inquiries, violation reports, and even developer applications will be slow while it works on securing its internal systems.