Don’t Be Naive: Obama/Biden “Twitter Hack” Not What It Seemed


I’m betting that the recent Twitter hack of prominent political and celebrity Twitter accounts was politically motivated and nation-state operated. But that’s not what “the investigators” say. And that false narrative could have massive implications for your privacy. Here’s the background in a nutshell:

Approximately 130 high-profile Twitter accounts were hacked on July 15 in what the company is calling a “coordinated social engineering attack”.  Victims included politicians like Barack Obama and Joe Biden, heads of mega companies like Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, and company accounts like Apple and Uber. Ironically, Donald Trump’s account has “extra security” protecting it from access, which begs the question, why don’t we all get added security if it’s possible?

Using various angles (“feeling grateful”, “giving back to my fans”…), hackers posted tweets on the compromised accounts saying that if followers sent Bitcoin to a wallet address then they would receive double the amount in return. No one falls for those scams anymore, right? At least 363 transactions occurred and the account received more than $118,000 in just a few hours. 

Investigators believe the people behind the twitter hack appear to have come from the “OG” community, a group interested in original, short Twitter handles such as @a, @b or @c, for instance. It is thought that they worked with at least one Twitter employee to gain access to an internal tool that allows staff to change email addresses associated with accounts; the hackers were able to reset the passwords of 45 of the accounts. The OG Community is not known to be tied to any nation state and their motivation is supposedly a mix of financial gain, hacker bragging rights, and disruption. So let me get this straight:

Experts are saying that cybercriminals got their hands on the Twitter accounts of 45 of the most powerful people on the planet and the best they could come up with was a tired Bitcoin scheme that made them $118,000? That’s pocket change to cybercriminals, and might be the lamest attribution for a hack I’ve ever heard. 

The key words above are “The OG Community is not known to be tied to any nation state” which is exactly why a nation-state like Russia would use technological tools like TOR’s Onion Router and trumped up OG user accounts to hide behind a plausible, alternative hacking group that would take the attention off of the real motivation. I can’t tell you how many historical cyberattacks I have seen that have been digitally disguised behind a highly-attractive alternative reality. 

Here is a fundamental law of cyberattacks: Hacker attribution (who actually performed the hack) and hacker motivation (why the hack was performed), is an exceptionally difficult puzzle to solve, and often manipulates outsiders in exactly the opposite direction. 

Twitter says no passwords were stolen, but they have not yet been able to confirm whether direct messages were compromised. I’m guessing that it will come out down the road that both passwords and direct messages were compromised. That’s how the corporate publicity machine works: the first message claims little damage and the truth comes out subsequently when we have all stopped paying attention (e.g., Target, Equifax, Marriott…).

So What Was the Point of the Twitter Hack – $118,000? NOT!

Clearly, nation-states don’t need $118,000 in Bitcoin, right? The twitter hack was simply a dry run for political disinformation attacks, cyber blackmail and campaign IP eavesdropping that will manifest closer to our presidential election. Nation-states that have a horse in the U.S. presidential race were testing the waters and covering their tracks by pointing to a plausible alternative explanation.

Yes, this hack raises questions about Twitter’s ability to secure its service against election interference and misinformation ahead of the U.S. presidential election, but those questions have existed for at least four years now. It also threatens the confidentiality and privacy of direct messages sent through Twitter; incredibly powerful information in the race for power. Politicians, business leaders and individuals alike should migrate their private messages to apps like Signal or even the less secure but better than Twitter option of Apple Messages. 

John Sileo is a cybersecurity expert, award-winning author and media personality as seen on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox & Friends. He keynotes conferences virtually and around the world and is the CEO of The Sileo Group, a technology think tank based in Colorado

Democracy @ Stake: 2020 Election Interference DejaVu

What you need to know about Russia’s 2020 election interference

  • Last week, the director of national Intelligence (DNI), a Republican appointee, notified the House Intelligence Committee that Russia is indisputably tampering with the 2020 election similar to election interference in 2016.
  • The intelligence community determined that Russia’s efforts are to help see Trump reelected.
  • Angered by the news, Trump fired his director of national intelligence, saying that 2020 election interference claims are a Democratic hoax.
  • If the administration doesn’t take steps to protect both the primaries and general election, both sides lose, as neither winner (Republican or Democrat) will be viewed as legitimate.
  • The stakes are much higher than any single election, as unaddressed tampering will delegitimize our election process and, therefore, presidential power.

The Details of U.S. Intelligence Reports on Russian Election Interference

When President Trump learned last week that U.S. intelligence officials warned lawmakers that Russia is interfering in the Presidential election to aid his reelection, he got angry — not at Russia but at the intelligence community.

Upon hearing the news, Trump fired the director of national intelligence — Republican-appointee Joseph Maguire — saying it was all a Democratic hoax. The president was more concerned with how Democrats would use the news against him than about securing our elections. 

If this sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve been down this road before. 

Intelligence officials have been telling us since 2017 that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, and last year’s Senate Intelligence Committee report came to the same conclusion. That report included recommendations on how to secure the 2020 election, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked bills aimed at achieving that goal. 

What’s new this time around is that last week’s briefing included a warning that Russia plans to interfere in the Democratic primaries as well as the general election. During the briefing, Republican lawmakers allied with President Trump challenged that conclusion. We’ve heard that song before, too.

In early 2017, when the intelligence community first concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered an influence campaign that would favor then-candidate Trump, Republicans said that Russia’s intention was to sow chaos rather than impact the election outcome one way or another. 

Ironically, on the same day that intelligence officials were delivering their briefing to the House Intelligence Committee, Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn blocked three bipartisan bills designed to enhance election security. 

Now here we are, on the eve of the Nevada caucuses, South Carolina Democratic primary and so-called Super Tuesday, and neither the president nor his Republican allies in Congress appear to have any intention of securing our elections. On the contrary, on numerous occasions the president has actually called on foreign nations to investigate his political rivals, including Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. 

Back in August, I wrote that by turning a blind eye to Russian interference, McConnell and Trump were missing the bigger picture. Putin’s meddling in 2016 was to their benefit and now we know that he aims to help Trump again. But that’s only because keeping Trump in power benefits Putin’s ultimate goal, which is to destabilize American democracy.

If the White House and allied Republicans continue to stand behind their assertion that Russia isn’t behind 2020 election interference and Trump wins the White House, the legitimacy of the election will be questioned.

If he loses the election, he’ll be able to leverage “the liar’s dividend” to call the election into question. Even if it were possible to prove the election was fair and the results legitimate, Trump’s supporters won’t believe it. Not after he’s planted the seed of a Democratic hoax conspiracy. 

Either way, American voters on both sides of the aisle lose because the results will be in question no matter what. And that’s exactly what Russia wants more than anything — not just Trump in office for four more years — but to undermine America’s trust in our democracy and voting process. 

Why? Because when we’re focused on fighting each other internally, we don’t focus on Putin’s power grabs at home or around the world

The right thing to do is to protect the voting process so the winner is considered legitimate, no matter who it is. Protection benefits both sides — not just during this election but for all future elections. Our democracy hinges on  voters trusting in the system. And the system is faulty at best if it isn’t protected properly. 

The very core of our democracy is at stake, and If Trump and his administration don’t start taking this seriously, we’ll all lose. Bigly. 

About Cybersecurity Keynote Speaker John Sileo

John Sileo is CEO of The Sileo Group, a privacy and cybersecurity think tank based in Colorado, and an award-winning author, keynote speaker, and expert on cybersecurity, election hacking and tech/life balance.