It was about 4 in the afternoon on Wednesday on the East Coast when chaos struck online. Dozens of the biggest names in America — including Joseph R. Biden Jr., Barack Obama, Kanye West, Bill Gates and Elon Musk — posted similar messages on Twitter: Send Bitcoin and the famous people would send back double your money.
It was all a scam, of course, the result of one of the most brazen online attacks in memory.
A first wave of attacks hit the Twitter accounts of prominent cryptocurrency leaders and companies. But soon after, the list of victims broadened to include a Who’s Who of Americans in politics, entertainment and tech, in a major show of force by the hackers.
Twitter quickly removed many of the messages, but in some cases similar tweets were sent again from the same accounts, suggesting that Twitter was powerless to regain control.
The company eventually disabled broad swaths of its service, including the ability of verified users to tweet, for a couple of hours as it scrambled to prevent the scam from spreading further. The company sent a tweet saying that it was investigating the problem and looking for a fix. “You may be unable to Tweet or reset your password while we review and address this incident,” the company said in a second tweet. Service was restored around 8:30 Wednesday night.
As awful as this scam is, I worry more about political disinformation that could be spread though a hack like this, especially last minute false information about a candidate’s health or their position on controversial issues.
We need to treat candidates’ social media accounts as part of our critical election infrastructure.