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The Twitter logo seen on a mobile phone in this illustration picture taken on August 10, 2020, in Arlington, Virginia. Photo: AFP

Twitter whistle-blower to speak at US Senate hearing amid ‘serious concerns’ over cybersecurity allegations

  • Peiter ‘Mudge’ Zatko will testify before the US Senate Judiciary Committee on September 13 to address allegations that Twitter failed to protect user data
  • The allegations from Twitter’s former security chief have raised concerns in Congress and put the spotlight back on Elon Musk’s claims about bots on the network
The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing featuring testimony from Twitter whistle-blower Peiter “Mudge” Zatko on September 13, the panel’s leaders announced on Wednesday.
The committee said it had subpoenaed Zatko, the company’s former security chief, to appear a day after he went public with allegations that Twitter has failed to adequately protect data on its hundreds of millions of users, leaving their personal information open to hackers and spies.

“Mr Zatko’s allegations of widespread security failures and foreign state actor interference at Twitter raise serious concerns,” said Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the panel’s top Republican, Chuck Grassley of Iowa.

Peiter Zatko, widely known by his hacker handle Mudge, seen in this undated US federal government photo. Photo: Handout via Reuters

“If these claims are accurate, they may show dangerous data privacy and security risks for Twitter users around the world,” the senators said in the statement.

The committee plans to investigate further with a full hearing and take additional steps as needed to get to the bottom of the allegations, according to the statement.

Zatko, who oversaw Twitter’s security from 2020 until he was fired six months ago, submitted reports outlining his claims to the US Securities and Exchange Commission, the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission. He alleged that Twitter’s head of site integrity told him that the social media company didn’t know how many bots, or automated accounts, are on its platform.

Twitter rejected the whistle-blower’s claims, describing them in a statement as a false narrative “riddled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies”. Zatko was fired for “ineffective leadership and poor performance”, Twitter said.

John Tye, chief disclosure officer of Whistleblower Aid, which is representing Zatko in the complaint, said Wednesday evening that “Mudge stands by everything in his disclosure, and his career of ethical and effective leadership speaks for itself.”

Twitter whistle-blower could give Elon Musk a boost in court

“The focus should be on the facts laid out in the disclosure, not ad hominem attacks against the whistle-blower,” Tye added.

Legal experts said Zatko’s claims could bolster Elon Musk’s legal case against Twitter. The Tesla Inc founder, who is seeking to back out of his bid to buy the social media site, is arguing in court that Twitter misled him about the amount of bots and spam on the platform.

Lawmakers on several congressional committees have vowed to investigate Zatko’s claims and have argued that his revelations highlight the need for federal privacy legislation.

Zatko alleged that Twitter prioritised growth over reining in the scourge of spam accounts, and even offered millions of dollars in cash bonuses to executives that increased the number of daily active users. He also claimed the Twitter sales team has continued to misuse phone numbers for targeted advertising, potentially violating its 2011 consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission.