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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Twitter ‘didn’t have the ability to hunt foreign intelligence operatives’, says whistleblower

Artwork by Alex Castro/MastStatus

Twitter’s lack of internal security controls were such that the company was simply unable to detect foreign intelligence agents who had infiltrated the company, former security chief Peiter ‘Mudge said. ‘ Zatko.

Zatko made the claims during testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, during a hearing on Twitter’s data security practices.

The first questions of the senses. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) quickly focused on claims that Twitter faced numerous insider threats, including from Indian government employees. Zatko said the Indian government was not the only national government to embed agents into the company. At least one Chinese spy was employed by Twitter, Zatko said, but the extent to which the company was compromised could not be known.

“We just didn’t have the ability to hunt foreign intelligence agents and deport them on our own,” he said.

Zatko also reiterated claims made in its SEC disclosure, alleging that a lack of access logging in the company’s internal systems meant it was effectively impossible to see what data had been accessed by a specific employee. Within the company, there were “thousands” of unauthorized data access attempts each week, Zatko told the hearing, but it was impossible to quantify them precisely.

The Judiciary Committee hearing marked the first time Zatko has made a public appearance since his explosive whistleblower disclosure was filed with the SEC in July and reported by CNN and The Washington Post in August.

Besides infiltration by foreign intelligence officials, Zatko alleged numerous security flaws within Twitter, including lax access controls that gave about half of Twitter’s 10,000 employees the ability to display potentially sensitive user data.

After a few weeks of relative calm, new details given at the hearing will no doubt put Zatko back in the spotlight. Since the revelations were made, Elon Musk’s lawyers have sought to subpoena Zatko to present evidence in the ongoing lawsuit over whether Musk will be forced to buy Twitter or if he will be allowed to withdraw from the agreement.

But new reports of The New Yorkerpublished on the day of the Judiciary Committee hearing, quotes numerous friends and former colleagues of Zatko saying they were offered large sums of money to participate in “interviews” on personality, work ethic and Zatko’s leadership style.

Despite the personal discomfort, Zatko told the Judiciary Committee that he was prepared to “put everything on the line” to improve safety on Twitter and in the industry as a whole.

Twitter had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.

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