Technical Editor: Xu Jiu, from the Editorial Department

“In the next 30 minutes, if you send money to this digital wallet address, I will give you double the amount back. Everyone asked me to give back to society. Now is the time!”

Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Kanye West, Apple’s official account, and others all tweeted similar messages in the early hours of this morning. Is it true that the early bird gets the worm? Are the bosses giving back to society?

The answer, of course, is no. It’s a hack, and a Bitcoin scam is behind it.

Twitter Security Vulnerability

The tweets were posted in bulk by hackers who had stolen the targeted accounts. Industry security experts said the problem was caused by a security breach in the Twitter service, rather than by the targeted people’s own risky behaviour.

Alex Stamos, a former chief security officer at Facebook, said one theory now widely accepted by researchers is that hackers have gained access to the system’s encryption keys, allowing them to essentially steal the “token” that grants access to individual accounts. He argues that all theories suggest that the hackers gained access to Twitter’s systems, rather than stealing the passwords of individual users.

The tweets were deleted within minutes of being posted, and Twitter officials said they had put in place a special set of restrictions that restricted access to tweets from many Blue V accounts. But according to social media, most accounts are still being tweeted and cannot reset their passwords.

According to publicly available blockchain records, the link shown in the target account’s tweets has received hundreds of donations totalling more than $100,000 (£80,000).

“This appears to be the worst hack ever on a social media platform,” Dmitry Alperovich, co-founder of cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, said in a press interview.

A spokesman for Bill Gates also said: “This seems to be part of a larger problem for Twitter.”

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said it was a “tough day” for us. We all felt terrible that this had happened. We are diagnosing and will share whatever we can when we have a fuller picture of what happened.”

Hackers used Twitter’s control panel to steal accounts

According to two sources close to the underground hacking community, the hackers used Twitter’s control panels, where employees interact with users’ accounts, to steal the accounts and post the scam.

Twitter has since removed the screenshot of the control panel that circulated and banned the user who shared the image on the grounds that the content violated company rules.

The hacking of high-profile Twitter accounts has also raised concerns for the US government. Just over an hour after the incident, Republican Senator Josh Hawley wrote to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey asking whether President Trump’s account had been affected by the hack. And asked Twitter to provide more information about the hack, including how it was carried out and the number of users whose information was compromised.

“We are assessing the breach and will release more information as and when possible,” Dorsey said.

Similar incidents have happened before

The “double back bitcoin” scam has occurred on Twitter for years, but the large number of public figures’ accounts being hijacked is unprecedented.

Last year, the account of Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, was hacked, but the company said it had fixed vulnerabilities that made his account vulnerable.

The fact that so many different users were hacked at the same time suggests that the Twitter platform itself may still have big problems.

Luckily, the hackers didn’t use their access to target any important institutions or infrastructure, but instead demanded bitcoin. But the incident shows that they are capable of doing more damage.

According to industry experts, there is no evidence yet as to who carried out the attack. But initial assessments by U.S. intelligence agencies suggest that this was probably the work of a single hacker, rather than the political actions of a single country.