Twitter Share Price Set To Plunge Following High Profile Hack Of Celebrity Profiles

Published On: July 16, 2020Categories: Stocks & Shares3.5 min read

The Twitter share price is set to open almost 5.5% down after a spectacular breach on inhouse security saw the profiles of a number of celebrity users hacked. Accounts including those of former U.S. president Barack Obama, current incumbent Donald Trump, Elon Musk and Kim Kardashian were accessed. Messages instructing followers to send bitcoin to an anonymous wallet saw the hackers profit to the tune of $110,000.

The scam instructed followers of the celebrity accounts to send $1000 (£790) of the cryptocurrency in order to receive twice that amount in return. As many as 350 Twitter users took the bait.

Scammers took hold of their accounts and told people they had 30 minutes to send $1,000 (£790) worth of the cryptocurrency bitcoin to a special link to be sent back twice as much.

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Twitter described the cyber security breach as a “co-ordinated social engineering attack”, that had targeted company employees with access to internal systems and tools. The statement went on to say:

“We know they [the hackers] used this access to take control of many highly visible accounts and tweet on their behalf.”

While it has not been confirmed if the hackers had also accessed private direct messages of the Twitter accounts targeted, the fact tweets could be posted from them suggests that is likely to be the case. The social media company said an ongoing investigation was attempting to establish “what other malicious activity they may have conducted or information they may have accessed.”

The incident is a serious blow to the reputation of Twitter, whose share price has been rallying strongly since April to claw back much of the losses taken during the March stock market selloff. The microblogging platform is heavily reliant on the draw of high-profile celebrity users such as those who were targeted yesterday. It remains to be seen if they will be put off continuing to actively use their Twitter accounts in future.

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Other big names to have their profile’s taken over by the hackers included the Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden, Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York and another recent presidential candidate. The corporate accounts of Apple and Uber were also affected.

Because bitcoin transactions are always public, even if wallets themselves can be held anonymously, records show the hackers received a little over $118,000 worth of the cryptocurrency from around 350 people in the first hour of the scam. Twitter partly shut down its service for several hours as it frantically tried to resolve the problem and stop any new accounts from being targeted.

The ban on posting enacted by Twitter affected accounts with a blue tick symbol, which indicates the identity of the account holder has been verified by the company. That meant the accounts of reputable news outlets such as the BBC and major newspapers were suspended from posting. Ironically, this stymied the release of reliable information on what was happening.

David Castaneda of British cybersecurity start-up Cybex commented:

“This could have been so much worse and is probably the most serious successful cyberattack on a major social media platform to date. Given the potential of tweets by high profile celebrities to influence, the fact that the scam has been limited to around 350 people sending $118,000 of bitcoin has to be considered a let-off.

It also highlights how robust and competent cybersecurity measures do not stop with considering purely online attacks. It also involves the education of anyone with access to sensitive systems and tools and putting systems in place that combine online and offline cybersecurity measures”.

Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s co-founder and chief executive did not try to deflect attention from the seriousness of the breach, stating simply:

“Tough day for us at Twitter. We all feel terrible this happened.”

The BBC have reported that a group called Cryptoforhealth has claimed to be behind the attack. An Instagram account bearing the group’s name was set up at the same time as the hack was being initiated. The account posted:

“It was us. It was a charity attack. Your money will find its way to the right place.”

It’s not the first time scammers have used celebrity names on Twitter to try to entice bitcoin payments by promising to match funds sent to wallets. These attempts usually rely on fake accounts posing as the genuine profiles of public figures known for their enthusiasm for cryptocurrencies, such as Elon Musk. However, yesterday’s breach was the first time the actual accounts of such public figures have been used.

About the Author: Jonathan Adams

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