New York finance watchdog says Twitter hack proves social media should be regulated

The New York State Department of Financial Services says social media firms have too much responsibility with little government oversight

Large social media platforms like Twitter should be overseen by a dedicated regulator, according to a new report by a top US financial watchdog.

The report from the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS) comes exactly three months after a cyber attack against Twitter which saw high-profile celebrity accounts being hacked in order to promote a cryptocurrency scam, leading to the theft of more than $118,000 worth of Bitcoin.

The attack saw hackers obtain log-in credentials to the accounts of Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Elon Musk, and others by pretending to work in Twitter’s information technology department. The attackers, led by a 17-year-old resident of Tampa, Florida, duped Twitter staff into sharing the confidential credentials by claiming to be responding to problems with the company’s VPN.

The DFS report found that “the extraordinary access the hackers obtained with this simple technique underscores Twitter’s cybersecurity vulnerability and the potential for devastating consequences”.

In a statement accompanying the report, the watchdog’s financial services superintendent Linda Lacewell said that “social-media platforms have quickly become the leading source of news and information, yet no regulator has adequate oversight of their cybersecurity”.

“The fact that Twitter was vulnerable to an unsophisticated attack shows that self-regulation is not the answer,” she added.

New York governor Andrew Cuomo, who had ordered the probe into the attack, said the report demonstrated a “regulatory gap that must be filled” in order to safeguard “financial and political systems from cyber-attacks and misinformation campaigns”.

“Americans increasingly use and rely on these social media platforms, which means there is no room for weak leadership, systemic errors or flawed cybersecurity when it comes to protecting users and content,” he added. "New York will not hesitate to take the lead with responsible measures that protect our citizens, our systems and our democracy."

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Twitter said that it had cooperated with the DFS investigation and, since the attack, has implemented additional security training for employees.

“Protecting people’s privacy and security is a top priority for Twitter, and it is not a responsibility we take lightly,” said a spokesperson for the company.

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