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Extraordinary Twitter hack compromises some of the world’s most prominent accounts

Everyone from Barack Obama to Kanye West tweeted a bitcoin scam that raises concerns about how secure their accounts really are.

Barack Obama, Elon Musk, and Kanye West appear in a triptych.
Accounts belonging to everyone from Barack Obama to Kanye West to Elon Musk are involved in a massive Twitter hack.
Getty Images

Hackers hijacked the Twitter accounts of some of America’s wealthiest people, prominent politicians, and well-established brands in an extraordinary security lapse on Wednesday.

Twitter accounts belonging to former President Barack Obama, former vice president Joe Biden, and billionaires like Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk sent out messages promising bitcoin payments as part of a scam that unfolded on Wednesday afternoon. The breadth of the hack seemed to multiply by the minute, with more and more business leaders and companies known for their security measures, including Apple, sharing similar messages to their millions of followers.

All told, the messages raised serious concerns about both the security protocols of America’s iconic businesses and those of their leaders, along with the practices at Twitter that may have led to the hacking.

Shortly after 3 pm PT, as part of its attempt to fix the problem, Twitter temporarily suspended verified accounts’ ability to post tweets and reset their passwords. Around three hours later, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said he felt “terrible” about the breach and promised a full investigation.

“Tough day for us at Twitter. We all feel terrible this happened,” Dorsey tweeted. “We’re diagnosing and will share everything we can when we have a more complete understanding of exactly what happened.”

Twitter said late Wednesday that the investigation was ongoing but that the company was subject to a “coordinated social engineering attack by people who successfully targeted some of our employees with access to internal systems and tools.” The perpetrators then used that access to tweet on behalf of the high-profile figures, Twitter said.

The messages slinkered in Wednesday afternoon — Musk and Gates were some of the first to appear corrupted. Within about an hour, Kanye West — who has almost 30 million followers — was telling his fans that he would double up to $10 million in bitcoin payments sent to his account.

Many of the tweets were deleted within minutes of posting, but the breach only seemed to stop after Twitter temporarily shut down verified accounts.

Several accounts for entities that serve as the infrastructure of the cryptocurrency economy, such as Binance and Coinbase, were also affected.

It is not uncommon for bitcoin scammers to use Twitter to impersonate high-profile people in attempts to rake in virtual currencies. These scams, though, tend to be more isolated captures of individual accounts.

The only other Twitter breach that could be seen as remotely as sensitive as Wednesday’s was the hacking of Dorsey, whose account sent out tweets supporting white supremacy last August. But that incident did not have the breadth of what occurred on Wednesday.