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What You Need to Know about the Twitter Whistleblower and Your Safety Online

What You Need to Know about the Twitter Whistleblower and Your Safety Online

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Aug. 23 2022, Published 2:15 p.m. ET

The former head of security for Twitter has come forward with whistleblower information that could put the social media platform in hot water with its users and investors.

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Peiter "Mudge" Zatko, who has agreed to be identified publicly, wants people to know exactly how far Twitter is falling short in their quest to protect users and their data. Here's what Zatko had to say and what the implications are for regular Twitter users.

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Peiter "Mudge" Zatko Comes Foward with Alarming Insight into Twitter's Security Issues

Twitter may not be as safe of a place as its users hope. That may not be news to everyone, but the details revealed by Zatko have certainly raised the alarm level for people already concerned.

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Last month, Zatko sent information to Congress and federal agencies that painted a picture of a company trying hard to hide its shortfalls. Zatko referred to the environment at Twitter as "chaotic" and "reckless" and alleged that too many people were given access to sensitive data at the core of the company. Zatko went on to allege that multiple senior executives are hiding the company's poor cybersecurity practices and could be working for foreign intelligence.

CNN reports, "The whistleblower, who has agreed to be publicly identified, is Peiter "Mudge" Zatko, who was previously the company's head of security, reporting directly to the CEO. Zatko further alleges that Twitter's leadership has misled its own board and government regulators about its security vulnerabilities, including some that could allegedly open the door to foreign spying or manipulation, hacking and disinformation campaigns. The whistleblower also alleges Twitter does not reliably delete users' data after they cancel their accounts, in some cases because the company has lost track of the information, and that it has misled regulators about whether it deletes the data as it is required to do. The whistleblower also says Twitter executives don't have the resources to fully understand the true number of bots on the platform, and were not motivated to. Bots have recently become central to Elon Musk's attempts to back out of a $44 billion deal to buy the company (although Twitter denies Musk's claims)."

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Blockquote open

Mr. Zatko was fired from his senior executive role at Twitter in January 2022 for ineffective leadership and poor performance. What we've seen so far is a false narrative about Twitter and our privacy and data security practices that is riddled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies and lacks important context. Mr. Zatko's allegations and opportunistic timing appear designed to capture attention and inflict harm on Twitter, its customers and its shareholders. Security and privacy have long been company-wide priorities at Twitter and will continue to be.

- a statement from a Twitter spokespersonBlockquote close

Zatko was fired from the company earlier this year, for what they claim was poor performance. Zatko claims he was released from the company due to attempts to flag their cybersecurity lapses and draw attention to how dangerous the culture was becoming for user data.

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CNN adds, "The scathing disclosure, which totals around 200 pages, including supporting exhibits -- was sent last month to a number of US government agencies and congressional committees, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice. The existence and details of the disclosure have not previously been reported. CNN obtained a copy of the disclosure from a senior Democratic aide on Capitol Hill. The SEC, DOJ and FTC declined to comment; the Senate Intelligence Committee, which received a copy of the report, is taking the disclosure seriously and is setting a meeting to discuss the allegations, according to Rachel Cohen, a committee spokesperson."

What does this mean for users of the platform? It means that your data is not as safe as the company promised it would be. While that doesn't mean you have to delete your Twitter today, just be aware of the risks and protect your information as much as possible.

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What Does the Twitter Whistleblower Mean for Elon Musk in his Court Battle with the Company?

Zatko's revelation could do more than land Twitter in hot water with Congress, it could have implications in the court battle over Elon Musk's aborted attempt to purchase the company.

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Musk has been saying for months that Twitter has misled investors about the platform's financial health, and accused them of misstating the prevalence of spambots as users. Musk claims that Twitter deprioritized figuring out which users were bots versus which were actual users, to overstate the platform's engagement.

User engagement helps determine the platform's value, so in essence Musk says they were lying about how much value Twitter had in its user base. The whistleblower's revelations could bolster Musk's claims and get him out of the contract without paying a fee. Right now, he's on the hook for a fee because he backed out of an intent to purchase content. But if they misrepresented the company and he can prove it, the contract may be null and void.

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