Twitter said hackers used the system access privileges of company employees to gain control of some verified platform accounts -- including Presidential candidate Joe Biden, tech giant Apple (AAPL) - Get Report and billionaire Tesla (TSLA) - Get Report founder Elon Musk -- before seeking payments via a bitcoin account that would be returned in cash. Around $110,000 worth of payments were ultimately made, according to blockchain ledgers, before Twitter was able to gain control of the platform and suspend access to the 'blue tick' accounts.
"We detected what we believe to be a coordinated social engineering attack by people who successfully targeted some of our employees with access to internal systems and tools,"Twitter said in a series of statements on its platform. "We know they used this access to take control of many highly-visible (including verified) accounts and Tweet on their behalf. We’re looking into what other malicious activity they may have conducted or information they may have accessed and will share more here as we have it."
Twitter shares were marked 2.5% lower in early trading Thursday to change hands at $34.82 each, a move that would trim the stock's year-to-date gain to just 5%.
The simultaneous hacking of so many accounts, including those with two-factor verification protection, suggest the attack was aimed directly at Twitter's security systems rather than any weakness in individual security settings.
This puts Twitter in a difficult position heading into both its second quarter earnings, which are set to be published on July 23, and the U.S. Presidential elections later this fall.
President Donald Trump's verified account was not affected by the hack, multiple media reports suggest, but was nonetheless shutdown by Twitter during its company-wide response to the breach.
Social media firms such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook have been debating for months how to best handle political information -- and disinformation -- heading into the autumn elections, with Twitter opting to censure messages from President Trump, its most high-profile account, in recent weeks.
House Democrat Frank Pallone, who heads a Congressional committee that steers U.S. tech policy, said last night that Twitter "needs to explain how all of these prominent accounts were hacked."