Twitter in turmoil following serious accusations from a whistleblower, Elon Musk rubs his hands

A controversy at the worst time for Twitter. While the social network is engaged in a legal battle against Elon Musk to force him to honor his promise to purchase, the blue bird must now face a scandal which he would have done well: a man presenting himself as a pitcher alert, Peiter Zatko, accuses him of having concealed vulnerabilities in his protection system and lied about his fight against fake accounts. This last point is particularly sensitive: it is precisely the stated subject of the dispute between Elon Musk and Twitter. The multi-billionaire boss of Tesla and SpaceX accuses Twitter of lying about the actual number of fake accounts on the platform, and uses this argument to justify his reversal and thus cancel the takeover.

In his complaint, Elon Musk accuses Twitter of having “hidden the truth” about the number of monetizable accounts

“Serious and shocking” security failures

In an 84-page document sent last month to several American authorities and revealed on Tuesday by the Washington Post and CNN, Peiter Zatko denounces “ serious and shocking shortcomings, willful ignorance and threats to national security and democracy “.

Among the most explosive accusations, the former head of security mentions serious security failures as well as a desire by management to bury these problems rather than deal with them. He claims Twitter executives sought to hide the number of hacking attempts from US authorities, as well as board members. According to him, Twitter allegedly violated the terms of an 11-year agreement with the Federal Trade Commission [l’autorité américaine de la concurrence, Ndlr] falsely claiming he had a solid security plan.

Zatko claims to have warned colleagues that half of the company’s servers were running outdated and vulnerable software. He would also have denounced that the leaders concealed the number of violations and the lack of protection of user data from the board of directors, presenting instead reassuring graphs.

He also claims that thousands of employees still have extensive internal access to the company’s core software, and that this situation has for years led to embarrassing hacks, including the hijacking of accounts held by high-profile users. like Elon Musk and former Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

Elon Musk engulfs in controversy

That’s not all. If the accusations about data security represent the main part of the document, the supposed whistleblower also attacks Twitter’s management of fake accounts.

According to Peiter Zalko, Twitter has consistently prioritized growing its user base over combating spam and bots. The supposed whistleblower notably describes as a lie a tweet published in May by the platform’s boss, Parag Agrawal, assuring that Twitter was doing everything to detect and remove spam as quickly as possible.

However, the question of bots is at the heart of the dispute with Elon Musk. He accuses the company of minimizing the proportion of fake accounts and spam, estimated at 5% by the platform. The supposed negligence denounced by the former employee possibly gives Musk an additional argument to justify the abandonment of his plan to buy Twitter for 44 billion dollars, and avoid paying severance pay.

We have already subpoenaed Mr. Zatko and find his dismissal and that of other key employees strange in light of what we have discovered. “said Alex Spiro, one of Elon Musk’s lawyers, in an email to AFP. The entrepreneur, for his part, reacted by posting, on Twitter, a drawing of the cartoon character Jiminy Cricket whistling, an allusion to the English word designating whistleblowers.

That said, the whistleblower’s accusations about fake accounts only seem to point to the platform’s lazy fight against spam and bots, not its claim that there are only 5% fake accounts. However, the dispute with Musk concerns the number of fake accounts. By contrast, Elon Musk can use accusations that Twitter lied to regulators and misled shareholders to his advantage.

An opportunistic complaint for Twitter

For its part, Twitter denies all these accusations. The company assures that security and data protection are among its priorities and that the complaint is “ full of inconsistencies and inaccuracies “.

Twitter is also directly attacking its former manager, accusing him of having chosen a convenient time ” for ” draw attention ” and ” Harm Twitter, its customers and its shareholders “. Former hacker known by the nickname “Mudge”, Peiter Zatko was hired at the end of 2020 by the co-founder and ex-boss of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, after the hacking of the accounts of many personalities (Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos , Kim Kardashian…)

According to Twitter, he was fired due to “ ineffective leadership and poor performance “. ” Fake “, answer his lawyers, according to whom he was dismissed “ just two weeks after a confrontation with Parag Agrawal over security issues. The former executive is helped in his efforts by the association for the protection of whistleblowers, Whistleblower Aid, which had already defended Frances Haugen, a former computer scientist at Facebook whose sensational revelations had tarnished the reputation of the social media giant last fall.

“Facebook files”: the most devastating scandal in Facebook’s history

Twitter in the sights of regulators

According to the Washington Post and CNN, congressional representatives wish to speak with Peiter Zatko. ” If these accusations are true, they may raise fears of data protection and security risks for Twitter users around the world. “, advanced the influential Democratic senator Dick Durbin in a press release.

The complaint also shows that the weakness of the platform’s response to misinformation is ” extraordinary “Said Paul Barrett, specialist in the impact of social networks on democracy at New York University NYU.

According to the document, Twitter “ only hired two experts dedicated to misinformation, employs few people who speak languages ​​other than English, and relies primarily on moderators lacking the cultural and geographic knowledge to identify misinformation,” he denounces in a message sent to AFP.