SAN FRANCISCO — Some of the biggest names in politics, entertainment and technology, including Joe Biden, Kanye West, Bill Gates and Elon Musk, appeared to have had their Twitter accounts hacked Wednesday.
The Associated Press reported that others whose accounts were hacked include former President Barack Obama, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, and Mike Bloomberg.
The accounts sent messages related to cryptocurrency, with most of the messages promising to double the money of anyone who sent Bitcoin to a specific cryptocurrency wallet. Within hours of the tweets appearing, nearly 300 people had fallen for the scam, sending more than $100,000 to the wallet. Many of the tweets were quickly removed, but in some cases similar tweets were sent again from the same accounts.
Twitter sent out a message saying that it was investigating the problem and looking to fix it.
The attack was a brazen show of force by the attackers who managed to seize one of the primary means of communications for a Who’s Who list of Americans. The hackers did not use their access to take aim at any important institutions or infrastructure like the stock market — instead deciding to just ask for Bitcoin.
But the attack was frightening because the hackers could have easily caused much more havoc. There was quickly speculation on what would have happened if the attackers had instead decided to move the financial markets or sew political chaos. Even though this didn’t happen, the attack exposed the vulnerability of a company, Twitter, that has become a de facto real-time news source.
The messages posted in the breaches were an iteration of a long-running scam in which hackers pose as public figures on Twitter, and promise to match or even triple any funds that are sent to their Bitcoin wallets. In the past, hackers have created fake accounts to try to convince users that the funds will be going to public figures like Musk or Gates. The attacks Wednesday were the first time that the real accounts of public figures were used in the scam.
Gates, who has become one of the world’s leading philanthropists since stepping down as Microsoft CEO, confirmed to the Associated Press the tweet wasn’t from him. “This appears to be part of a larger issue that Twitter is facing,” a spokesperson for the billionaire said in a statement.