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Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Elon Musk and Other Top US Twitter Accounts Hacked in Bitcoin Scam: All You Need to Know

Jul 17, 2020 7:04 AM 3 min read

In what is being dubbed as one of the “most brazen online attacks in memory”, a number of high-profile Twitter accounts with millions of followers, including those of Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Kanye West and Apple were hacked by attackers in rapid succession, who used the accounts to spread a cryptocurrency scam yesterday.

(What are the odds of US President Donald Trump not featuring on that list!)

In an initial wave of the scam, posts on accounts of Bitcoin, Ripple, CoinDesk, Coinbase and Binace were also hacked with the same message.



What Exactly Happened?

The hacked accounts posted a tweet  saying any bitcoin sent to a link in the tweet will be sent back doubled, an offer the tweet said lasted just for 30 minutes.


Barack Obama's Twitter account hacked


And to everyone’s utter surprise, in the four-odd hours the tweets were live, the Bitcoin wallet promoted in the tweets received over $100,000 via at least 300 transactions!

“Bad Day At Twitter”

Twitter released a statement saying that they were aware of a security incident affecting accounts and are taking steps to fix it. The linked site was pulled offline. Affected accounts were locked down and tweets posted by the attackers removed. The micro-blogging site also limited functionality for a much larger group of accounts, like all verified accounts (even those with no evidence of being compromised).

How the Hack Did it Happen?

According to Twitter Support, the “coordinated social engineering attack” was executed by people who “successfully targeted some of our employees with access to internal systems and tools”, and the investigations are ongoing. 

A Twitter spokesperson told Motherboard - Vice that the company is still investigating whether the employee hijacked the accounts themselves or gave hackers access to the tool.

The accounts were taken over using an internal tool at Twitter, according to the sources, and at least some of the accounts appear to have been compromised by changing the email address associated with them using the tool.

Two sources said the Twitter panel was also used to change ownership of some so-called OG accounts - accounts that have a handle consisting of only one or two characters - as well as facilitating the tweeting of the cryptocurrency scams from the high profile accounts.

The below screenshot obtained by Vice Media shows details about the target user's account, such as whether it has been suspended, is permanently suspended, or has protected status.


internal tool at Twitter
One of the screenshots of the panel. Additional redactions by Motherboard-Vice.



What Should Other Twitter Users Like Us Do?

A larger fear associated with the incident is that given the level of access the hackers apparently had, the hack could also have given them access to private, direct messages sent and received by the account owners.

Well considering that the vulnerability that was exploited was within the Twitter systems and not on the user side, changing passwords might not really help. But maintaining internet hygiene is anyday a good idea. Perhaps check for log-in from multiple devices. 

How will this Impact Twitter, And Other Social Media Sites, In General?

A question thrown earlier with more and more people working from home, of potential security concerns and threats of a breach, would now become more pronounced. 

Twitter, needless to say, would come under heightened scrutiny after this incident. 

And given the soon approaching Presidential Election and the influence and role of social media, especially Twitter over political conversations globally, and in the US particularly, the incident and its timing does not augur well for the platform.

Not to mention Donald Trump’s Executive Order against these social media platforms.

Well with the investigations ongoing, stay tuned.


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