The #TwitterHack Postmortem
Hundreds of millions of users were exposed to crypto scam tweets from compromised Twitter accounts. What happened?
Note: This is a high-level overview of the events that occurred. To see a detailed timeline of every single account and tweet, view this spreadsheet.
You can also view the massive tweet thread that we tweeted in realtime.
For screenshots of all the tweets, view this imgur album.
On July 15, around 40 (possibly more) Twitter accounts — with hundreds of millions of combined followers — were compromised and began tweeting out forms of trust-trading scams.
These scams netted more than $100,000 in cryptocurrency and the actions made waves throughout the internet.
*Last updated Friday, July 17 @ 12:20PM PT*
11:23AM PT · Jul 15, 2020
In the first of a series of unfortunate events, popular crypto Twitter account “AngeloBTC” is hijacked and asking for funds.
12:13PM — 1:09PM PT · Jul 15, 2020
Popular cryptocurrency accounts start sending tweets about partnering with CryptoForHealth.
This includes binance, cz_binance, gemini, bitcoin, kucoincom, coinbase, coindesk, and others.
01:11PM PT · Jul 15, 2020
The messaging on the tweets changes to promote crypto addresses instead of a website.
01:23PM PT · Jul 15, 2020
We issued a domain blacklist to MetaMask so users who have the extension will be met with a warning if they visit the scam site.
Accounts continue to become compromised and send scam tweets, including those of Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett, Wiz Khalifa, Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, and others.
2:45PM PT · Jul 15, 2020
Twitter posts an update and acknowledged the situation while the scam tweets continue.
2:58PM PT · Jul 15, 2020
Twitter disables one of the password reset flows that shows you a hint of the email address associated with the account.
3:11PM PT · Jul 15, 2020
Twitter disallows all verified accounts from tweeting as a stop-gap. No further scam tweets appear.
5:41PM PT · Jul 15, 2020
Twitter begins to restore the ability for verified accounts to tweet.
7:38PM PT · Jul 15, 2020
Twitter publishes explanatory thread.
In this explanatory thread, Twitter claims that this attack was a “coordinated social engineering attack” that resulted in outside access to internal systems and tools. This access was then used to deploy the scam tweets across the various accounts.
They are continuing to investigate.
09:30AM PT · Jul 16, 2020
Reuters published an exclusive that the FBI is leading the inquiry into the hack: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-twitter-cyber-fbi-exclusive-idUSKCN24H2PH
07:53PM PT· Jul 16, 2020
Twitter continues their previous thread and adds more information.
In the following tweets, they state their belief that ~130 accounts were targeted in some way during this incident. They’ve disabled the ability to download Your Twitter Data in the meantime, and are taking ‘aggressive’ steps to secure their systems while continuing the investigation.
Who tweeted the scam tweets?
@cloudwhiteven (possible troll)
@mcnicollme (possible troll)
@ninodevries (possible troll)
@paultudorjone (possible troll)
@thesoleprano (possible troll)
@WtfffMichael (possible troll)
Which crypto addresses were promoted?
Which email addresses were attached to the accounts?
What is interesting to note is that these recovery emails cycled in batches. The first couple of accounts had
firstname.lastname@example.org then there was a noticeable break in the tweets and the accounts that tweeted after the break had a different recovery email.
This suggests an (internal) tool was changing the details of accounts to emails owned by the “hackers” and they were simply going through the normal account recovery flow. This theory is reinforced with the fact that Twitter disabled that flow at 1458PM PST Jul15, 2020.
email@example.com (17 stars)
firstname.lastname@example.org (12 stars)
email@example.com (8 stars)
firstname.lastname@example.org (10 stars)
email@example.com (11 stars)
firstname.lastname@example.org (14 stars)
je***********@g****.*** (11 stars)
The various unknowns/concerns
This Twitter hack is the biggest hack that Twitter has ever seen, and the sheer amount of people that these scam tweets were exposed to may make it one of the most widely known hacks on the internet.
One of the biggest discussions surrounding this incident is the fact that Twitter is a centralized platform with a backdoor that allowed for this to happen at all. Some speculate that the internal tools allowed for tweeting directly from any account, but there’s a chance that it was a tool that made it easier to recover any account by changing the associated email address.
A handful of questions remain:
- What other Twitter user accounts were/are compromised?
- What accounts were compromised but never tweeted—was anything sensitive in saved tweets/drafts, DMs, connected devices, and/or active session data?
- Did they export DMs and now have access to potentially sensitive information (some companies ask for sensitive information over Twitter DM)?
- Does having 2FA vs hardware 2FA do anything to protect anything of yours at all?
- Why hasn’t Twitter implemented the end-to-end encrypted DMs that they had been working on previously?
If you have any further information or corrections to the above, please let us know by emailing email@example.com.