Twitter hires famous hacker to secure its platform

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Social Media giant Twitter, under increased threat of regulation and plagued by serious security breaches, is hiring one of the world’s best-known hackers to secure its platform.

Peiter Zatko, Reuters

The company on Monday announced the appointment of Peiter Zatko, widely known by his hacker handle Mudge, as the head of security. Zatko has been given the mandate to recommend changes in structure and practices, and will officially take over management of key security functions after a 45- to 60-day review. He will report to CEO Jack Dorsey.

“Looks like the cat is out of the bag”, Zatko tweeted shortly after Twitter announced his appointment.

“Welcome, Mudge!”, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted, in response to Zatko’s tweet.

 

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The hacker told Reuters in an interview he will examine “information security, site integrity, physical security, platform integrity — which starts to touch on abuse and manipulation of the platform — and engineering.”

Zatko’s hiring comes months after Twitter saw some of its highest profile accounts fall victim to a bitcoin scam, including the accounts of President-elect Joe Biden, Tesla CEO Elon Musk and the account of the fourth richest man in the world, Warren Buffett.

“I don’t know if anyone can fix Twitter’s security, but he’d be at the top of my list,” said Dan Kaufman, who supervised Zatko at DARPA and now leads the advanced products group at Google.

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Zatko’s most recent job was as head of security at the electronic payments unicorn Stripe. Prior to that, he handled special projects at Google and oversaw handing out grants for projects on cybersecurity at the Pentagon’s famed Defense Advanced Research and Projects Agency (DARPA).

Zatko started hacking in the 1990s when he first conducted classified work for a government contractor and was also among the leaders of Cult of the Dead Cow, a hacking group notorious for releasing Windows hacking tools in order to goad Microsoft into improving security.

He told Reuters that he was also interested in Twitter’s ongoing efforts to improve public conversations and reduce the spread of misinformation. He praised Twitter’s recent move to add friction to the retweet process by prompting users to read a story before sharing it.

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A next step could be to force people to understand a long conversation before participating in it, Zatko said.

Twitter rolled out a new tool on Tuesday, called fleets. The tool allows users to post photos or text that will disappear in 24 hours. Fleets are like stories in Facebook which have been in use for years.

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