Lessons learned from the ‘Historic’ Twitter Hack

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Social media plays an instrumental and more important role as a news source for billions of people around the World. The use of social media platforms, especially Facebook and Twitter, has ramped up significantly in the recent times as they provide fast and inexpensive source of information.

However, the recent wave of high-profile Twitter accounts hacking in cryptocurrency scam is an eye-opening cybersecurity breach for the social media platforms as well as their users. This historic incident started when Twitter accounts of some senior executives, prominent politicians, leading-tech organizations, and famous celebrities got compromised in a mysterious hacking operation, and started advertising a bitcoin-based Ponzi scheme to millions of their followers.

The hackers posted several messages with a bitcoin wallet to lure the followers that any payments they make would be doubled and sent back to them, which in actual was a tricky crypto scam.


This seems a pre-planned, well-prepared, and a sophisticated kind of cyberattack in which hackers first fully took over the victims Twitter accounts and then changed the associated recovery email addresses to make it more complex to regain access. Twitter believes that it was a coordinated social engineering attack, in which hackers first successfully hacked some of its employees who have access to the internal systems, softwares and tools, and then compromised the specific high-profile accounts. Twitter took a timely action and responded to the incident promptly and locked down all the affected accounts and removed malicious Tweets instantly to prevent followers from the scam.

It is estimated that the amount of scam sent to the bitcoin wallet was not too much, but it has raised several questions on the cybersecurity of social media platforms, which are followed by millions of people around the World. It is a matter of fact that social media platforms undoubtedly put paramount importance to the cybersecurity measures and monitor contents to avoid disseminating fake news, hoaxes, scams, and frauds that could have serious ramifications on our society. However, neither any website, software or system is immune to bugs and vulnerabilities nor the chances of human error could be ignored in an incident. Among many other possibilities in the Twitter hack, the work-from-home policy could be one of the reasons in the security breach as it is easier for hackers to exploit vulnerabilities and launch social engineering attack in less-controlled environments. This seems purely a human error, but a comprehensive forensic investigation will confirm the root causes of the incident.

As far as the users and followers of social media platforms and accounts are concerned, there is a need to learn from this scam and be vigilant while surfing on the Internet. An opportunity that claims to multiply money is always a guaranteed scam and users should avoid and report such postings and their respective accounts. It is also important to stop believing everything that appears on social media, even if it is posted by a verified account, a celebrity or any well-known personality. Furthermore, if a breaking news appears on the social media then users should first verify its credibility through multiple news outlets and mainstream media. The social media users also need to protect their accounts by basic cybersecurity guidelines and choose strong passwords, enable two-factor authentication, and report any suspicious activity to the social media platform or the computer emergency response team (CERT) in their respective country.

On the other hand, when businesses are following work-from-anywhere or teleworking policies, they are harboring more cybersecurity threats than ever before. The remote working environment poses a unique challenge to an organization as it does not usually have the same safeguards and preventive security controls as in the office environment, which is more restricted by stringent policies and procedures. According to a survey of 6,000 employees conducted by a cybersecurity company Kaspersky, 73% of employees working remotely have not yet received any cybersecurity awareness guidance or training from their employers. Therefore, it is essential for organizations to organize proper training and cybersecurity awareness sessions to their employees tailored for teleworking. If hackers were successful in their attempt to perform a social engineering attack on Twitter’s employees, then it could be due to the discrepancy of the cybersecurity awareness and negligence of cyber hygiene.

— Muhammad Khurram Khan is a professor of Cybersecurity at King Saud University as well as founder & CEO of Global Foundation for Cyber Studies and Research in Washington D.C. His profile can be visited at http://www.professorkhurram.com. His Twitter handle is @khurramcyber


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