The FBI started an investigation after hackers hijacked the Twitter accounts of a number of high-profile U.S. characters in an apparent Bitcoin scam.
“The accounts appear to have been compromised in order to perpetuate cryptocurrency fraud,” said the bureau, urging the public to be vigilant.
Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Joe Biden were among those affected in what Twitter said was a “coordinated” attack.
Their official accounts have requested donations in the cryptocurrency.
“Everyone is asking me to return,” said a tweet from the account of Mr Gates, the founder of Microsoft. “Send $ 1,000, I’ll send you back $ 2,000.”
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The U.S. Senate Trade Committee asked Twitter to report the incident on Wednesday by July 23rd.
Twitter said hackers targeted their employees “with access to internal systems and tools.”
“We know them [the hackers] used this access to take control of many highly visible accounts (including verified ones) and Tweets for them, “the company said in a series of tweets.
He added that “significant measures” were taken to limit access to these internal systems and tools as the company’s investigation continues.
The tech company has also prevented users from being able to tweet the addresses of Bitcoin wallets for the time being.
The UK’s National Cyber Security Center said its officers “contacted” the tech company. “We would like to urge people to treat requests for money or sensitive information on social media with extreme caution,” reads a statement.
US politicians also have questions. Republican Senator Josh Hawley wrote to the company asking if President Trump’s account had been vulnerable.
President Trump’s account has not been compromised, the White House said.
The president of the Senate Trade Committee has also been in touch with Twitter.
“There is no exaggeration about how troubling this incident is, both in its effects and in the apparent failure of Twitter’s internal controls to prevent it,” Senator Roger Wicker wrote to the firm.
A cyber security expert said the violation could have been much worse in other circumstances.
“If you were to have this type of incident in the middle of a crisis, in which Twitter was being used to communicate de-escalatory language or critical information to the public, and is suddenly spreading wrong messages from several verified accounts states – this could be seriously destabilizing.” Dr. Alexi Drew of King’s College London told the BBC.
Twitter previously had to take the extraordinary step of preventing many verified accounts marked with blue check marks from tweeting altogether.
Password reset requests have also been denied and some other “account features” have been disabled.
By 20:30 EDT (00:30 GMT on Thursday), users with verified accounts started being able to resend tweets, but Twitter said it was still working on a solution.
Dmitri Alperovitch, who co-founded the cybersecurity company CrowdStrike, told Reuters news agency: “This appears to be the worst hacking of a major social media platform.”
On Musk’s official account, the Tesla boss and SpaceX seem to offer to double any Bitcoin payments sent to his digital wallet address “for the next 30 minutes”.
“I feel generous because of Covid-19,” added the tweet, along with a Bitcoin link address.
The tweets were deleted a few minutes after their first publication.
But when the first tweet like that from Musk’s account was removed, another tweet appeared, then a third.
Other targets included:
- reality TV star Kim Kardashian West
- former US President Obama
- media billionaire Mike Bloomberg
- the Uber app for sharing laps
- the iPhone maker Apple
Joe Biden’s campaign, who is the current Democratic presidential candidate, says Twitter has “blocked the account within minutes of the breach and removed the related tweet.”
The BBC may report from a security source that a web address – cryptoforhealth.com – to which some hacked tweets have directed users has been registered by a cyber-attacker using the e-mail address [email protected]
The name “Anthony Elias” was used to register the website, but it could be a pseudonym – it appears to be an “alias” game.
Cryptoforhealth is also a username registered on Instagram, apparently set at the same time as hacking.
The profile description read “We were there,” next to a smiley face.
The Instagram profile also posted a message that said, “It was a charity attack. Your money will find its way to the right place.”
In any case, the real identities of the authors are still unknown.
Cameron Winklevoss, who was declared the world’s first Bitcoin billionaire in 2017 along with his twin brother Tyler, tweeted a message on Wednesday warning people not to participate in the “scam”.
In a short time he was online, the link displayed in the tweets of the target accounts received hundreds of contributions for a total of over $ 100,000 (£ 80,000), according to publicly available blockchain records.
Targeted Twitter accounts have millions of followers.
Last year, Jack Dorsey’s CEO account was hacked, but the company said it had corrected the flaw that made its account vulnerable.
Dr. Drew recently wrote a paper warning about the potential of Twitter used to sow disinformation.
He said the latest incident highlighted the need for all major social media platforms to monitor their security measures, particularly ahead of the U.S. presidential vote in November.
“Social media companies like Twitter and Facebook have a duty to consider the damage and influence their platforms may have on the 2020 election, and I think some companies take it more seriously than others,” he told the BBC.
“Twitter actually has a good story of foresight and proactive in this space. But whatever the source of this attack is [it seems they have] still not enough. “