Twitter is accused of lying about fake accounts. According to a complaint filed by former head of security Pater Zatko, the social network deliberately underestimates the number of bots, thereby proving the truth of Elon Musk.
Former Twitter head of security Peter Zatko has filed a complaint against the platform with the US stock market regulator (SEC), the Department of Justice and the US antitrust authority. He sent a copy of the complaint to several US lawmakers. Our Washington Post colleagues received a copy of this document, over 80 pages long.
Fired in January 2022, the cybersecurity expert paints an unflattering portrait of his former employer. He blames Twitter for failing to protect its 238 million daily users. During his fast-paced tenure with the company, Zatko said he witnessed “extreme and egregious shortcomings” in safety.
Recall that Peter Zatko was hired by Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter, at the end of 2020. Formerly known as “Maj”, Zatko was hired after the social media hack months earlier. That summer, a hacker managed to take over the accounts of 130 celebrities, including Elon Musk, Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Kim Kardashian and Bill Gates. The attacker then launched a massive cryptocurrency scam. Zatko explains that he accepted Jack Dorsey’s offer to “improve the health of public discussion”.
In his approach, Zatko, who presents himself as an informant, supports Whistleblower Aid. This legal aid organization previously offered support to Frances Haugen, an anti-Meta whistleblower.
Lies, negligence and espionage
In his complaint, Pater Zatko alleges that Twitter executives have a habit of lying to authorities. In 2011, the social network is said to have lied to the Federal Trade Commission (FCC), the telecommunications regulator. Twitter assured that it has a plan to strengthen its security. However, half of the company’s servers have not been updated, the former hacker claims. The complaint states that the server software is outdated and vulnerable, putting user data at risk.
“Twitter is clearly lax in several areas of information security,” says Pater Zatko, assuring that he “wants to complete the job that Jack hired me to do.”
The security expert also denounces the existence of software that allows thousands of employees to view Internet user data. This internal software, mainly for moderation, also allows you to delete an account, temporarily block it, block or change the associated email address. The massive access to this system is the source of many hacks, including the 2020 hack that hired Peter Zatko. All a hacker has to do to gain access to the heart of Twitter is lure an employee into a trap with a phishing email or trade access for payment.
Moreover, this internal moderation system will be used by spies authorized by governments. According to Zatko, India would force Twitter to grant access to the software to one of its agents. The former employee also allegedly used the system to spy on dissidents at the behest of Saudi Arabia.
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Elon Musk would be right: Twitter will hide the number of fake accounts
In addition, the former head of Twitter agrees with Elon Musk. According to Zatko, the social network deliberately underestimates the number of fake accounts on the platform. To protect their profits, executives would rather grow their user base than hunt bots.
Therefore, Elon Musk’s lawyers immediately turned to Zatko to obtain his testimony. Thanks to ex-hacker revelations, the billionaire hopes to win a lawsuit against Twitter. The platform wants to force the Tesla founder to fulfill his $44 billion takeover bid. In order to withdraw his offer without paying fines, Musk claims that Twitter has been lying about the bots from the start of the negotiations.
“We have already taken Mr. Zatko to court and consider the dismissal of him and other key employees strange in light of what we have found,” said Alex Spiro, one of Elon Musk’s lawyers.
The social network guarantees that only 5% of accounts are fake. Twitter also claims to delete over a million fake accounts per day, or over 300 million deletions per year.
Twitter vehemently denied the allegations made by its former employee. According to the microblogging platform, Pater Zatko, who was fired for “poor leadership and poor performance,” is “opportunistically trying to harm Twitter, its customers and shareholders.” The social network notes that the facts set out in the complaint are incorrect, exaggerated, outdated and “riddled with inaccuracies.”
“Security and privacy have long been top business priorities,” Twitter spokesperson Rebecca Hahn said.
For his part, Parag Agrawal, CEO of Twitter since the departure of Jack Dorsey in 2021, is committed to “defending the integrity of the company” and “setting a record.” Despite everything, the whistleblower managed to attract the attention of the American authorities. The United States Senate would really like to talk to Zatko about his complaint. The “Maj” allegations punished the group’s actions in the stock market. Shares lost 3.67% after the Washington Post revelations.