Whistleblower details former Twitter security chief’s claim that company 'misled regulators'

Whistleblower details former Twitter security chief’s claim that company 'misled regulators'
Image via Brian Solis / Wikimedia Commons

A new whistleblower complaint is shedding light on an accusation that suggests Twitter executives may have misled regulators in regard to the social media platform's security and spam protocols.

According to The Washington Post, the complaint was lodged by Peiter Zatko, the former head of security for the social media platform, and describes Twitter as "a chaotic and rudderless company beset by infighting, unable to properly protect its 238 million daily users including government agencies, heads of state and other influential public figures."

Per The Post, the July complaint was filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and the U.S. Department of Justice.

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It alleges that "thousands of employees still had wide-ranging and poorly tracked internal access to core company software, a situation that for years had led to embarrassing hacks, including the commandeering of accounts held by such high-profile users as Elon Musk and former presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump."

The complaint also alleges that "the company prioritized user growth over reducing spam, though unwanted content made the user experience worse. Executives stood to win individual bonuses of as much as $10 million tied to increases in daily users, the complaint asserts, and nothing explicitly for cutting spam."

The Post's review of the complaint also points out the more egregious accusations. Twitter is said to have "violated the terms of an 11-year-old settlement with the Federal Trade Commission by falsely claiming that it had a solid security plan. Zatko’s complaint alleges he had warned colleagues that half the company’s servers were running out-of-date and vulnerable software and that executives withheld dire facts about the number of breaches and lack of protection for user data, instead presenting directors with rosy charts measuring unimportant changes."

Speaking to The Post, Zatko, who was hired at Twitter in 2020 by former CEO Jack Dorsey, shared details about the reason for his decision to address the situation publicly.

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“I felt ethically bound. This is not a light step to take,” said Zatko, who was fired by Chief Executive Parag Agrawal in January of this year.

In an analysis penned back in February, Zatko also wrote, “Twitter is grossly negligent in several areas of information security. If these problems are not corrected, regulators, media, and users of the platform will be shocked when they inevitably learn about Twitter’s severe lack of security basics.”

The news outlet also noted that Zatko declined to speak in specific detail about what happened while working at the company "except to stand by the formal complaint." However, under the whistleblower rules in place for SEC complaints, he does have legal protection to shield him against retaliation and could potentially receive a monetary reward.

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