This Tuesday, Sept. 13, Peiter Zatko testified before a Senate Committee as part of a complaint he filed warning about Twitter’s security failures.
In his testimony, Zatko said Twitter’s security precautions were so deficient that if an intelligence agency had not infiltrated the company, “most likely it’s not doing its job.”
“I remember a conversation with an executive where I said, ‘I’m sure we have a foreign agent,’ and his response was, ‘Well, since we already have one, what does it matter if we have more? Let’s keep growing the company,'” Zatko added.
According to the ex-hacker, the security and user privacy shortcomings were so severe that any intelligence agency could infiltrate the platform.
“Twitter’s executive is misleading the public, lawmakers, regulators and even its own board of directors,” Peiter Zatko testified during the Senate Committee hearing. “The company’s cybersecurity flaws make it vulnerable to exploitation, causing real harm to real people.”
Senator Chuck Grassley said during the hearing that the FBI knew at least one Chinese agent was infiltrating Twitter. He added that the platform’s CEO, Parag Agrawal, did not attend the hearing because he feared jeopardizing the trial with Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Twitter shareholders had already approved the buyout deal by Musk on the same day as the hearing. However, the Tesla CEO is trying to overturn the agreement.
In the August 2022 complaint filed with the SEC and the U.S. Department of Justice, Zatko disclosed information compromising the Indian government, Chinese entities, and intelligence agencies.
In the report, Twitter’s former chief security officer stated that in 2021 he had indications that foreign agents and intelligence services were infiltrating the platform. The Indian government required Twitter to hire individuals who were intelligence agents and who had access to large amounts of confidential data. In this way, the company would be violating the privacy and security of users by allowing a government to gain access without apparent oversight to classified information.
Recently, a Twitter shareholder filed a lawsuit against the company, alleging that Parar Agrawal and other executives discouraged Zatko from conducting a “comprehensive review of the platform’s security.” In addition, the plaintiff alleges that Twitter executives violated federal law by providing false information about the platform’s security issues to manipulate the stock price.
Has the CCP infiltrated Twitter?
Another fact reported in Zatko’s report to Congress pointed to infiltration by Chinese entities. Twitter executives agreed that the company would receive more money from these entities. Zatko indicated that after receiving these investments, there was some concern at the company about the security of user data. Twitter is banned in China, so Chinese users accessing the platform must use VPNs and applications designed to break through China’s extensive Internet firewall. The confidential information provided to these Chinese entities puts the security of Chinese users and users worldwide at risk. However, the company decided to omit these “details” and focus on obtaining profits from China.
In this regard, a report published by Reuters on Sept. 13 revealed that China represents one of Twitter’s most significant sources of revenue over the last two years.
Revenues come from advertising on the platform to publicize China’s tourist attractions to an international audience. These advertising spots are contracted directly by local authorities and state-owned media outlets.
According to Reuters, four undisclosed sources commented that the decision to do business with Chinese entities affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party to increase Twitter’s revenues generated internal tensions within the company.
Reuters reported that the video game, technology, and e-commerce industries are vital customers of Twitter. The company’s revenue from China is several hundred million dollars a year. Revenue has increased 800-fold since 2014, the fastest growing globally, according to a LinkedIn post by Twitter’s general manager for China, Alan Lan, which was removed sometime later.
Many Chinese entity accounts do not have the Twitter “state media” label so that users can distinguish different content sources on the platform. For example, of the 300 accounts associated with state media and Chinese entities, only ten had the “state media” label.
These accounts, belonging to the Chinese Communist Party, continued with their paid advertisements even in August this year. A state-run fund @iChongqing_CIMC, managed by the southwestern metropolis of Chongqing, as well as the verified accounts @PDChinaLife and @PDChinaSports, managed by the People’s Daily, a Communist Party media outlet, were contacted by Reuters; however, none responded.
Chinese diplomats’ and officials’ Facebook and Twitter accounts number nearly 270, reaching millions. In addition, several social media posts garnered more than 350 million likes.
As paid promotion of the CCP increases on Western social media, some media outlets reported arrests and prison sentences of Chinese Twitter users.
The Wall Street Journal reported in January 2021 that more than 50 people had been arrested for using Twitter and other platforms.
Zhou Shaoqing, an unemployed resident of the city of Tianjin, was arrested in early 2020 after criticizing the Communist Party and its handling of the COVID pandemic on Twitter.
“The Chinese Communist Party system regards stability as its principle, and in the face of big problems, everyone protects themselves,” Zhou said in a February 2020 tweet. He added, “hospital and health officials would ‘all, intentionally or unintentionally,’ reduce the number of confirmed cases.'”
Three men later showed up at his house to “discuss pandemic measures.” They then threw him to the ground and, amid threats and beatings, took him away for interrogation. Finally, in November 2020, he was sentenced to 9 months in prison for the tweet he posted in February. Zhou had only 300 followers on his Twitter account.