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The former security chief at Twitter confirms Elon Musk's allegations of a high number of spam/bot accounts on the platform by filing a complaint against the company. The employee was fired from Twitter shortly after raising the security issue.
Elon Musk terminated the Twitter deal, among other things, because the platform refused to confirm that the number of spam/bot accounts is less than 5%, as indicated in its statement to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). He repeatedly raised this issue, pointing to independent research data that the number of spam/bot accounts could be much higher. A new complaint from recently fired security chief Peiter “Mudge” Zatko on Twitter confirms Musk's concerns and further discredits the current CEO of the platform, Parag Agrawal.
Zatko blames Twitter for “lying about bots to Elon Musk” in a whistleblower complaint filed in July with regulators, including the SEC, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post. Clearly, Musk's team will use the complaint as grounds for wider disclosure of Twitter's internal practices and data, which could be raised as early as Wednesday's hearing, according to people familiar with the matter. Musk's lawyers scheduled Zatko's testimony before the whistleblower's complaint was published.
Zatko is a security expert and known in the industry for his history of identifying software flaws.
Zatko's complaint alleges that Twitter misled regulators from the Federal Trade Commission and the SEC on security issues. He wrote that the true number of bots and spam accounts on Twitter is probably “meaningfully higher” than the figure Twitter claims, and company executives are not at all interested in identifying them.
“Twitter executives have little or no personal incentive to accurately ‘detect’ or measure the prevalence of spam bots,” the complaint alleges, adding “deliberate ignorance was the norm” among its executive team.
Zatko also alleges in his complaint that an unnamed top executive attempted to disable a key tool to block bots and spam accounts. The tool, internally called ROPO, for “read-only phone only,” blocks an account from tweeting until a user can prove it is linked to a real person.
That executive was Kayvon Beykpour, who was fired by Agrawal this year, said two of the people familiar with the company’s processes with spam, as well as a third person familiar with the discussions. The complaint states that Beykpour criticized the tool after personally “receiving a small number of unsolicited DMS (text messages).”
Zatko also alleges in the complaint that Twitter's security systems were severely flawed, leaving the company vulnerable to repeated hacks and even the real possibility of taking down the entire site. He says that during his year at the company, many work servers and laptops were running outdated and vulnerable software, and too many employees had access to internal systems containing sensitive user data and software.
© 2022, Eva Fox | Tesmanian. All rights reserved.
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About the Author
Eva Fox joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover breaking news as an automotive journalist. The main topics that she covers are clean energy and electric vehicles. As a journalist, Eva is specialized in Tesla and topics related to the work and development of the company.