While most Twitter users won’t have to worry about state-sponsored hacks on their accounts, the company clearly believes there’s a real and present threat to some in its community.
How do we know this? Well, the microblogging site has recently started sending out alerts to a number of users warning them that state-sponsored organizations – in other words, hacker groups working for, or linked to, governments – may have been attempting to access their accounts in an effort to grab sensitive data.
The email message tells recipients: “We are alerting you that your Twitter account is one of a small group of accounts that may have been targeted by state-sponsored actors.”
It goes on: “We believe that these actors (possibly associated with a government) may have been trying to obtain information such as email addresses, IP addresses, and/or phone numbers.”
Twitter says in the message that “at this time” it has no concrete evidence indicating that any of its users’ personal data has been stolen, but adds that it’s “actively investigating the matter.” It wraps up by suggesting ways recipients of the warning can protect their identity online.
The San Francisco-based company confirmed to the FT that it’d sent the alerts, some of which have been received by security researchers, activists, and journalists. It’s the first time Twitter has given a warning of this nature, the BBC reported, though it’s not clear how many users have been contacted.
Coldhak, a Canadian nonprofit organization working to further privacy, security and freedom of speech, received the warning on Friday, though one of its founding directors, Colin Childs, told Reuters his organization has so far seen “no noticeable impact” of any attack.
The warning is similar to ones already sent by other major Internet firms like Google and Facebook, with the latter explaining in October that while it’s always scanning its service for suspicious activity, it’d decided to start issuing additional alerts to users when it believes an attack is the work of, or linked to, a government.
The social networking giant said its warning message to affected users “will assist those people in need of protection,” adding that it would “continue to improve our ability to prevent and detect attacks of all kinds against people on Facebook.”
The new procedures implemented by the likes of Twitter and Facebook come as the U.S. and China continue to eye one another with suspicion on the issue of cyberattacks despite recent promises from the two nations’ leaders to refrain from engaging in economic espionage in cyberspace.
During a recent visit to the U.S. by Chinese President Xi Jinping, Obama said the two countries had managed to reach “a common understanding” on how to resolve the issue of cyber theft, but added there was still more to be done.