The Twitter accounts of major public figures, including billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates and Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk, have been hacked and used to post scam bitcoin giveaways.
The move, which has been described as the greatest hack of all time also targeted former U.S. president Barack Obama, billionaire investor Warren Buffet, and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Rapper Kanye West and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, as well as the official accounts of both iPhone-maker Apple and ride-share app Uber were also compromised.
The official account for Twitter itself was not spared.
Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden was among the accounts hijacked by attackers. The message posted to Biden’s official Twitter account was deleted minutes after it was sent, however.
The compromised Twitter accounts, including some high-profile bitcoin and cryptocurrency industry accounts, posted similar messages within minutes of each other early Wednesday evening inviting Twitter users to claim high-value rewards.
It’s unclear how the hackers gained access to the accounts, some of which are known to use two-factor authentication.
“We are aware of a security incident impacting accounts on Twitter. We are investigating and taking steps to fix it. We will update everyone shortly,” Twitter posted. The company’s share price has dropped in after hours trading, down around 4%.
Shortly after posting its statement, Twitter appears to have disabled all verified accounts from tweeting, saying: “You may be unable to Tweet or reset your password while we review and address this incident.”
“I’m surprised Twitter hasn’t gone completely dark to prevent misinformation campaigns and political upheaval,” Rachel Tobac, the chief executive of cybersecurity firm SocialProof Security, told NBC News, adding: “We are lucky the attackers are going after bitcoin (money motivated) and not motivated by chaos and destruction.”
“We have partnered with CryptoForHealth and are giving back 5,000 BTC,” one of the hacked Twitter accounts posted along with a link to a scam website.
Donations to one bitcoin address used by the scammers, which can be seen here, have now passed $100,000.
The accounts of major bitcoin and cryptocurrency exchanges Binance and Gemini were affected, as well as blockchain news outlet Coindesk.
“All major crypto Twitter accounts have been compromised,” Gemini co-founder Cameron Winklevoss said via Twitter.
Some of the posts were deleted after being sent, however, some accounts that were used by attackers have continued to post links to the scam.
Despite the negative connotations of the high-profile scam, some in the bitcoin and cryptocurrency community aren’t worried.
“Any regulatory action in response to the hack is likely to focus on Twitter, rather than on bitcoin,” Cory Klippsten, tech investor and founder of bitcoin buying app Swan Bitcoin, said via Telegram, adding he’s expecting this event to result in an influx of new bitcoin users.
“At this early stage in bitcoin’s rise, almost all news is good news. A lot of people who’ve never given it a thought are going to be reading about bitcoin over the next few weeks, and wondering why the scammers chose it as the vehicle to pull off their scam.”
This style of bitcoin giveaway scam, promising high-value returns for a small donation, has been around for some time.
Fraudsters have used the names and likeness of celebrities and high-profile people from U.S. president Donald Trump to singer Katy Perry to con unsuspecting internet users out of bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies.
Last year, an investigation by the U.K.’s Which? magazine found those who have fallen victim of one particular bitcoin scam reported individual losses of up to $250,000.
Campaigners have lobbied for social media and internet giants to clamp down on such scams and both Twitter and rival social media giant Facebook have recently taken steps to fight fake news on their platforms.
“I could see some sort of change in policy against bitcoin or crypto giveaways, with similar posts being automatically flagged or removed,” said Klippsten.