Former Twitter Security Chief Tells Senate There Are Foreign Agents in the Company

A former security chief for Twitter just testified to Congress and he revealed that the social media platform has foreign agents embedded in the organization. He also revealed that the company’s security for its data is specifically vulnerable to being exploited.

Peiter Zatko, also known as “Mudge,” is a 51-year-old cybersecurity expert who worked for Twitter. He became a whistleblower at the company in July of this year after the social media platform fired him. 

On Tuesday, Zatko appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to share his concerns about foreign countries that have infiltrated Twitter’s employee numbers. He believes that these foreign agents had access to the personal information of 238 million of Twitter’s daily users.

While giving testimony, Zatko said that his former employer had weak cybersecurity and that the organization could be exposing users to international intelligence operations. These foreign entities include China, India, and even the possibility of Russia. 

Zatko, the former security chief of Twitter, said in his testimony after being sworn in, “I am here today because Twitter leadership is misleading the public, lawmakers, regulators and even its own board of directors. They don’t know what data they have, where it lives and where it came from and so, unsurprisingly, they can’t protect it. It doesn’t matter who has keys if there are no locks.”

He gave his testimony and shared with “high confidence” that the government of India put an agent on Twitter. He said that he was made aware of at least one person who served as an “agent” for the government of China’s intelligence service who was on the payroll. 

Twitter Security Chief Alleges India and Chinese Government Put Paid Agents on Platform

Zatko talked about a conversation he had with the current CEO of Twitter, Parag Agrawal, who at the time was the chief technology officer. He said their words left him both surprised and shocked.

Agrawal asked Zatko in the conversation if it was possible to “punt” content moderation so that it was in the hands of the Russian government. 

Zatko said that Agrawal told him since Russia had elections, “doesn’t that make them a democracy?” And now Agrawal is the CEO of the company.

The testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee also included the fact that Twitter collects and stores more information about its users than the company is fully aware of. Zatko said that the Federal Trade Commission is weak in regulating these privacy violations and the security concerns that are involved in companies like Twitter. 

Dick Durbin (D-Ill), the Judiciary Committee Chairman, added substance to the testimony by saying that these security vulnerabilities “may pose a direct threat to Twitter’s hundreds of millions of users as well as to American democracy. Twitter is an immensely powerful platform and can’t afford gaping vulnerabilities.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. also sits on the committee with Durbin. He urged a bipartisanship effort to help regulate these social media tech companies saying that they needed to “up their game in this country.”

And Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said that the present CEO, Agrawal, would not comment on the allegations.

Twitter did provide a separate statement defending the way it hires people. It claimed that it is “independent of any foreign influence.” The statement said that their process includes background checks and access controls, and they use monitoring and detection systems and processes. In these ways, they limit employee access to user data.

This controversy over Twitter comes as Tesla founder and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is attempting to get out of his deal to purchase Twitter. Musk maintains that he has a right to withdraw from his agreement and has tweeted multiple times about the hearing in the Senate. 

This latest testimony should increase Musk’s case for withdrawal.