In the disclosure, Zatko alleged that the company has serious security and privacy vulnerabilities that could put users, investors and US national security at risk. He also alleged that Twitter executives have misled regulators and even the company’s own board about its shortcomings.
The slew of sharp reactions to Zatko’s disclosure from lawmakers, regulators and cybersecurity industry experts, not to mention Musk’s attorneys, raise the prospect that the claims could have significant and long-lasting implications for the social media company. To make matters worse, it comes at a time when Twitter has already been grappling with uncertainty among its employees, shareholders and advertisers from its pending deal with Musk.
The disclosure — which totals around 200 pages, including supporting exhibits — was sent last month to several US government agencies and congressional committees, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice. CNN obtained a copy of the disclosure from a senior Democratic aide on Capitol Hill. The SEC, DOJ and FTC declined to comment.
Twitter shares fell 7% Tuesday following news of the disclosure. The company’s stock was already suffering amid Musk’s attempt to get out of his $44 billion deal to acquire the platform, and is now trading at just over half of its all-time high near $80 last February.
Here is a look at the fallout in the immediate aftermath of the reporting on the disclosure:
Lawmakers and regulators start asking questions
The hearing is slated for September 13, which just so happens to be the same day Twitter shareholders are set to vote on whether to approve Musk’s $44 billion takeover deal.
“Mr. Zatko’s allegations of widespread security failures and foreign state actor interference at Twitter raise serious concerns,” said Sens. Dick Durbin and Chuck Grassley, the committee’s chair and ranking Republican, respectively. “If these claims are accurate, they may show dangerous data privacy and security risks for Twitter users around the world.”
Other US lawmakers have also weighed in on the matter.
The Senate Intelligence Committee, which received a copy of the report, is taking the disclosure seriously and is setting a meeting to discuss the allegations, according to Rachel Cohen, a committee spokesperson. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who chairs the Senate subcommittee on consumer protection, wrote a letter to the FTC on Tuesday calling on the agency to investigate the claims, and impose fines and individual liability on specific Twitter executives if a probe finds they were responsible for security lapses. Sen. Ron Wyden on Wednesday renewed calls for Twitter to protect its users’ direct messages from prying eyes with secure, end-to-end encryption.
Members of the US House Committee on Homeland Security on Thursday sent Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal a letter demanding that he address Zatko’s allegations and explain Twitter’s readiness for the 2022 midterms. And Twitter’s main regulator in Europe, the Irish Data Protection Commission, has also said it is seeking information from the company in light of the allegations.
Implications for the Twitter-Musk Trial
The whistleblower disclosure could have major ramifications for Twitter’s fight with Musk over their acquisition deal. But the Tesla CEO has been uncharacteristically quiet in the days since the news broke.
But while Musk has said little about Zatko, his lawyers are clearly interested in the former Twitter head of security. Musk lawyer Alex Spiro told CNN Tuesday that the billionaire’s legal team had subpoenaed Zatko in the case even before news of the disclosure was reported.
“They have an economic incentive to mislead,” Spiro said. “There’s a whistleblower complaint that has now been filed publicly that talks about the false information provided.”
(Zatko told CNN that his disclosure is unrelated to the acquisition, that he has no personal relationship with Musk and that he began documenting the concerns that would become his disclosure before there was any indication of Musk’s involvement with Twitter.)
Twitter says that it allows bots on its platform, such as good bots that tweet out news alerts, but its rules prohibit those that engage in spam or platform manipulation. The company says it regularly challenges, suspends and removes accounts engaged in spam and platform manipulation, including typically removing more than one million spam accounts each day. It declined to answer questions from CNN about the total number of accounts on the platform or total new accounts added each day.
Twitter executives have been pushing back against the allegations publicly, and trying to stem the fallout internally.
Agrawal on Tuesday wrote an internal memo to employees, obtained by CNN, vowing to challenge the allegations in the disclosure and seeking to reassure employees, calling the allegations “frustrating and confusing to read.”
In the meeting Wednesday, Sean Edgett, Twitter’s general counsel, said the company reached out to regulators and “various agencies around the world” when the company learned about the allegations being made by Zatko.