Twitter executives deceived federal regulators and the company’s own board of directors about “extreme, egregious deficiencies” in its defenses against hackers, as well as its meager efforts to fight spam, according to an explosive whistleblower complaint from its former security chief.
The complaint from former head of security Peiter Zatko, a widely admired hacker known as “Mudge,” depicts Twitter as a chaotic and rudderless company beset by infighting, unable to properly protect its 238 million daily users including government agencies, heads of state and other influential public figures.
Among the most serious accusations in the complaint, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, is that Twitter violated the terms of an 11-year-old settlement with the Federal Trade Commission by falsely claiming that it had a solid security plan. Zatko’s complaint alleges he had warned colleagues that half the company’s servers were running out-of-date and vulnerable software and that executives withheld dire facts about the number of breaches and lack of protection for user data, instead presenting directors with rosy charts measuring unimportant changes.
The complaint — filed last month with the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice, as well as the FTC — says thousands of employees still had wide-ranging and poorly tracked internal access to core company software, a situation that for years had led to embarrassing hacks, including the commandeering of accounts held by such high-profile users as Elon Musk and former presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
In addition, the whistleblower document alleges the company prioritized user growth over reducing spam, though unwanted content made the user experience worse. Executives stood to win individual bonuses of as much as $10 million tied to increases in daily users, the complaint asserts, and nothing explicitly for cutting spam.