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Hot Take on the Twitter Hack

If you read this blog, you’ve probably heard by now about the massive Twitter hack. Briefly, many high-profile accounts were taken over and used to tweet scam requests to send Bitcoins to a particular wallet, with the promise of double your money back. Because some of the parties hit are sophisticated and security-aware, it seems unlikely that the attack was a straightforward one directly on these accounts. Speculation is that a Twitter administrative account was compromised and that this was used to do the damage.

The notion is plausible. In fact, that’s exactly what happened in 2009. The result was a consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission. If that’s what has happened again, I’m sure that the FTC will investigate.

Again, though, at this point I do not know what happened. As I’ve written, it’s important that the community learn exactly what happened. Twitter is a sophisticated company; was the attack good enough to evade their defenses? Or did they simply drop their guard?

Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, tweeted that they would share “everything we can.”

With all due respect, that doesn’t sound good enough. Other than minor details that would be useful as evidence, the security community really needs to know what went wrong—we can’t build proper defenses without that. (For that matter, I’ve even called for disclosure of near misses.)

Twitter has become a crucial piece of the communications infrastructure; it’s even used for things like tornado alerts.

But even if it weren’t used for critical activities, it’s a major site—and the public deserves details on what went wrong.

By Steven Bellovin, Professor of Computer Science at Columbia University

Bellovin is the co-author of Firewalls and Internet Security: Repelling the Wily Hacker, and holds several patents on cryptographic and network protocols. He has served on many National Research Council study committees, including those on information systems trustworthiness, the privacy implications of authentication technologies, and cybersecurity research needs.

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