“Maj”, Musk’s prankster who could lose Twitter

PublishedSeptember 13, 2022, 11:02 am

Social networks“Maj”, Musk’s prankster who could lose Twitter

Peter Zatko, Twitter’s former chief of security, answers questions from a Senate committee on Tuesday and shakes the blue bird.

If Twitter wins, a judge could award Elon Musk several billion dollars in damages.


Known and respected in the cybersecurity community, former Twitter security chief Pater Zatko is a boon for Elon Musk in a case that pits him against the social network, even if the scale of the launch warning charges has yet to be demonstrated.

The 51-year-old computer scientist nicknamed “Madge” is scheduled to answer questions from a Senate committee Tuesday on his report to authorities this summer. He accuses Twitter of covering up its security flaws and lying about cracking down on fake accounts.

Blessed Bread for Mask

Blessed bread for Elon Musk: The Tesla boss has been raising the proportion of bad accounts for months to justify abandoning his plan to buy Twitter for $44 billion.

Mudge’s intervention opened a Pandora’s box for the San Francisco company, said Dan Ives, an analyst at Wedbush Securities. “Before Zatko’s development, Wall Street gave Twitter a winner” in a trial scheduled for October in a specialized court.

Billions at stake

If the bluebird wins, the judge could pay the world’s richest man several billion dollars in damages and even force him to honor his costly obligation under the terms of the April deal.

“If Madge says Twitter has a cybersecurity problem, Twitter has a big problem,” said Aaron Turner, CTO of Vectra, a California-based cybersecurity company who says he’s known the whistleblower since the 1980s.

Between music and computers

The son of two scientists, Peter Zatko grew up in Alabama and Pennsylvania, dividing his time between music and computers. In 1996, he joined a group of hackers called L0pht, with whom he testified before Congress two years later. “The US government first mentioned hackers in a positive context,” he tweeted in May 2019.

His avatar shows him at that time, evoking the image of Jesus with his long hair and halo of light. He then held various positions at Google and Stripe (an online payment services company), then at Darpa, a Pentagon research agency.

Jack Dorsey, founder and former Twitter boss, recruited him in July 2020 after a spectacular hack of celebrity and political figures (including Barack Obama, Elon Musk and Kim Kardashian).

In January 2021, Joe Biden’s transition team offered him the position of White House Security Director. He refuses, believing that, according to his lawyers, he still has a job for the social network.

Fired in 2022

But in January 2022, he was fired due to “poor leadership and poor performance,” according to Twitter. “Lies,” according to his lawyers. According to them, Mudge was fired after a run-in with management (including current boss Parag Agrawal), who allegedly refused to acknowledge the security concerns that management had raised.

By warning about this, “he put his career on the line out of concern for Twitter users, the public and shareholders,” they say.

Privacy agreement

“Those familiar with Mudge in the industry know that historically his intentions have been noble, apolitical and benevolent,” said Andrew Hay, COO of cybersecurity consulting firm Lares Consulting. At the end of June, Twitter agreed to pay Peter Zatko a severance package of more than $7 million.

According to the Wall Street Journal, he signed a confidentiality agreement that doesn’t cover possible interference as an informant.

“Overloaded” and “inefficient”

A few days later, the engineer sends a report to the authorities, where he directly discusses the questions asked by Elon Musk on automated accounts. He mentions Parag Agrawal’s “misleading” statements and claims that Twitter’s tools are “outdated” and the commands are “overwhelmed” and “inefficient”. It also denounces “serious and shocking failures (of cybersecurity), deliberate ignorance and threats to national security and democracy.”

According to various analysts, harmful accusations, but not necessarily prohibitive. “This is not yet proof that Twitter has misrepresented the numbers,” said Jasmine Enberg of Insider Intelligence. “Rather, it demonstrates the potential lack of interest of Twitter executives in the fight against bots.”

Elon Musk’s lawyers are “trying to prove that Twitter knowingly tried to sell him a house of cards,” said UC Berkeley law professor Adam Badawi. But “these (safe) vulnerabilities have to be very, very severe.”


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