Social-media giant Twitter Inc has appointed one of the world’s best regarded hackers, Peiter Zatko, widely known by his hacker handle ‘Mudge’ as Head of Security to tackle everything from “engineering missteps to misinformation”. Zatko will report directly to CEO Jack Dorsey and will take over key security functions after a 45- to 60-day review.
In a media interview, ahead of taking over as security head, Zatko said he would examine “information security, site integrity, physical security, platform integrity — which starts to touch on abuse and manipulation of the platform — and engineering”. Zatko is an ace network security expert, open source programmer, writer, and of course a widely acclaimed hacker. He was arguably the most prominent member of the high-profile hacker think tank called ‘L0pht’ as well as the computer and culture hacking cooperative called the ‘Cult of the Dead Cow’.
Talking to the media about Zatko’s appointment, Dan Kaufman, who oversaw Zatko at Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a research and development agency of the United States Department of Defense that oversees development of emerging military technologies, said, “I don’t know if anyone can fix Twitter’s security, but he’d be at the top of my list.” Kaufman now leads the advanced products group at Google.
Alex Stamos is a former Facebook Chief Security Officer and a current Stanford researcher who has helped to put together efforts to fight election disinformation. “The data breach this summer was an important reminder of how far Twitter needs to go in building some of the basic security functions necessary to run a service targeted by adversaries much more skilled than the teenagers arrested for that incident,” said Stamos in his comments.
Talking about his new role, Zatko said, “They are willing to take some risks, with the challenges of algorithms and algorithmic bias, they are not standing by and waiting until someone else solves the problem.”
Stamos, who, in fact, once worked for Zatko’s security consultancy, described him as a “great fit” for a company that doesn’t have the financial heft of Facebook and Google. “They are going to have to find creative solutions to these problems, and if Mudge is famous for anything in security, it is being creative.”
Zatko has vowed to help improve the public discourse on Twitter and hailed a recent move by the company to deepen “friction” by prompting users to comment instead of simply “retweeting”. The next step, many argue, could be to force people to “understand a long conversation before participating in it”, he said.
Twitter currently faces a variety of security challenges. A year ago, the American government accused two men of spying for Saudi Arabia when they worked at Twitter years earlier.
In July earlier this year, a group of young hackers foxed employees and secured access to internal tools, which let them change account settings and tweet from the accounts of then-presidential candidate Joe Biden, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk.