Company

An update on our security incident

By Twitter Inc.
Saturday, 18 July 2020

Last updated on July 30, 2020, at 5:45 PM PT with new sections below on “What we know now” and “What we’re doing to protect our service”. 

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July 30, 2020

As our investigation continues, we’re sharing an update to answer some of the remaining questions based on what we’ve discovered to date. We will provide a more detailed technical report on what occurred at a later date given the ongoing law enforcement investigation and after we’ve completed work to further safeguard our service. 

What we know now

The social engineering that occurred on July 15, 2020, targeted a small number of employees through a phone spear phishing attack. A successful attack required the attackers to obtain access to both our internal network as well as  specific employee credentials that granted them access to our internal support tools. Not all of the employees that were initially targeted had permissions to use account management tools, but the attackers used their credentials to access our internal systems and gain information about our processes. This knowledge then enabled them to target additional employees who did have access to our account support tools. Using the credentials of employees with access to these tools, the attackers targeted 130 Twitter accounts, ultimately Tweeting from 45, accessing the DM inbox of 36, and downloading the Twitter Data of 7. 

There has been concern following this incident around our tools and levels of employee access. To run our business, we have teams around the world that help with account support. Our teams use proprietary tools to help with a variety of support issues as well as to review content in line with The Twitter Rules and respond to reports. Access to these tools is strictly limited and is only granted for valid business reasons. We have zero tolerance for misuse of credentials or tools, actively monitor for misuse, regularly audit permissions, and take immediate action if anyone accesses account information without a valid business reason. While these tools, controls, and processes are constantly being updated and improved, we are taking a hard look at how we can make them even more sophisticated.

This attack relied on a significant and concerted attempt to mislead certain employees and exploit human vulnerabilities to gain access to our internal systems. This was a striking reminder of how important each person on our team is in protecting our service. We take that responsibility seriously and everyone at Twitter is committed to keeping your information safe.

We’ve communicated directly with the impacted account owners and worked to restore access to any accounts who may have been temporarily locked out during our remediation efforts. Our investigation is ongoing, and we are working with the appropriate authorities to ensure that the people responsible for this attack are identified. 

What we’re doing to protect our service

Since the attack, we’ve significantly limited access to our internal tools and systems to ensure ongoing account security while we complete our investigation. As a result, some features (namely, accessing the Your Twitter Data download feature) and processes have been impacted. We will be slower to respond to account support needs, reported Tweets, and applications to our developer platform. We’re sorry for any delays this causes, but we believe it’s a necessary precaution as we make durable changes to our processes and tooling as a result  of this incident. We will gradually resume our normal response times when we’re confident it’s safe to do so. Thank you for your patience as we work through this. 

We’re always investing in increased security protocols, techniques and mechanisms – it’s how we work to stay ahead of threats as they evolve. Going forward, we’re accelerating several of our pre-existing security workstreams and improvements to our tools. We are also improving our methods for detecting and preventing inappropriate access to our internal systems and prioritizing security work across many of our teams. We will continue to organize ongoing company-wide phishing exercises throughout the year.

We will continue to share updates and precautionary steps we take so that others can learn from this, too. We recognize the trust you place in us, and are committing to earning it by continued open, honest and timely updates anytime an incident like this happens. 

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July 18, 2020

As we’ve been informing via the @TwitterSupport account, on Wednesday, July 15, 2020, we detected a security incident at Twitter and took immediate action. As we head into the weekend, we want to provide an overview of where we are. 

In this post we summarize the situation as of July 17 at 8:35p Pacific Time. The following information is what we know as of today and may change as our investigation and outside investigations continue. Additionally, as the investigation of this incident is unfolding, there are some details — particularly around remediation — that we are not providing right now to protect the security of the effort. We will provide more details, where possible in the future, so that the community and our peers may learn and benefit from what happened. 

What happened 

At this time, we believe attackers targeted certain Twitter employees through a social engineering scheme. What does this mean? In this context, social engineering is the intentional manipulation of people into performing certain actions and divulging confidential information. 

The attackers successfully manipulated a small number of employees and used their credentials to access Twitter’s internal systems, including getting through our two-factor protections. As of now, we know that they accessed tools only available to our internal support teams to target 130 Twitter accounts. For 45 of those accounts, the attackers were able to initiate a password reset, login to the account, and send Tweets. We are continuing our forensic review of all of the accounts to confirm all actions that may have been taken. In addition, we believe they may have attempted to sell some of the usernames.

For up to eight of the Twitter accounts involved, the attackers took the additional step of downloading the account’s information through our “Your Twitter Data” tool. This is a tool that is meant to provide an account owner with a summary of their Twitter account details and activity. We are reaching out directly to any account owner where we know this to be true. None of the eight were verified accounts.

Our actions 

We became aware of the attackers’ action on Wednesday, and moved quickly to lock down and regain control of the compromised accounts. Our incident response team secured and revoked access to internal systems to prevent the attackers from further accessing our systems or the individual accounts. As mentioned above, we are deliberately limiting the detail we share on our remediation steps at this time to protect their effectiveness and will provide more technical details, where possible, in the future.

In addition to our efforts behind the scenes, shortly after we became aware of the ongoing situation, we took preemptive measures to restrict functionality for many accounts on Twitter - this included things like preventing them from Tweeting or changing passwords. We did this to prevent the attackers from further spreading their scam as well as to prevent them from being able to take control of any additional accounts while we were investigating. We also locked accounts where a password had been recently changed out of an abundance of caution. Late on Wednesday, we were able to return Tweeting functionality to many accounts, and as of today, have restored most of the accounts that were locked pending password changes for their owners. 

We are continuing our investigation of this incident, working with law enforcement, and determining longer-term actions we should take to improve the security of our systems. We have multiple teams working around the clock focused on this and on keeping the people who use Twitter safe and informed. 

What the attackers accessed 

The most important question for people who use Twitter is likely — did the attackers see any of my private information? For the vast majority of people, we believe the answer is, no. For the 130 accounts that were targeted, here is what we know as of today.

  • Attackers were not able to view previous account passwords, as those are not stored in plain text or available through the tools used in the attack.
  • Attackers were able to view personal information including email addresses and phone numbers, which are displayed to some users of our internal support tools.
  • In cases where an account was taken over by the attacker, they may have been able to view additional information. Our forensic investigation of these activities is still ongoing.

We believe that for up to 36 of the 130 targeted accounts, the attackers accessed the DM inbox, including 1 elected official in the Netherlands. To date, we have no indication that any other former or current elected official had their DMs accessed. [Added on July 22, 2020]

We are actively working on communicating directly with the account-holders that were impacted.

Our next steps

As we head into the weekend and next week, we are focused on these core objectives:

  1. Restoring access for all account owners who may still be locked out as a result of our remediation efforts.
  2. Continuing our investigation of the incident and our cooperation with law enforcement. 
  3. Further securing our systems to prevent future attacks.
  4. Rolling out additional company-wide training to guard against social engineering tactics to supplement the training employees receive during onboarding and ongoing phishing exercises throughout the year.

Through all of this, we also begin the long work of rebuilding trust with the people who use and depend on Twitter. 

We’re acutely aware of our responsibilities to the people who use our service and to society more generally. We’re embarrassed, we’re disappointed, and more than anything, we’re sorry. We know that we must work to regain your trust, and we will support all efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice. We hope that our openness and transparency throughout this process, and the steps and work we will take to safeguard against other attacks in the future, will be the start of making this right.

More to come via @TwitterSupport as our investigation continues. 

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