Watch CBS News

Some Twitter accounts may be targets of "state-sponsored" hackers

Twitter is alerting users their accounts may have been targeted by state-sponsored hackers looking to gain access to personal data
Twitter warns accounts may have been targeted by state-sanctioned spies 03:01

Twitter is warning some users that their accounts may be targets of attacks from "state-sponsored" hackers. The tech company sent emails to an unknown number of users alerting them that the hackers might be trying to access private information like email accounts, phone numbers, and IP addresses, CNET reports.

"We actually know very little about this whole thing that's gone on, but what we do know is that a number of countries have really built up their capabilities in terms of hacking and in terms of being able to attack all of these types of networks," CNET executive editor Ian Sherr told CBS News.

While many details about the threats are not yet known, some of the targets appear to be cybsersecurity and privacy researchers. The implications are serious, as it appears that the state-sponsored hackers may be focusing specifically on people "who were possibly trying to help free speech movements," Sherr said.

The emails are more of a warning than a confirmation that these users' information had actually been compromised. Coldhak, a Canadian nonprofit, posted a copy of the letter it received to its Twitter account.

"As a precaution, 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," the message reads.

"At this time, we have no evidence they obtained your account information, but we're actively investigating this matter," it continues. "We wish we had more information we could share, but we don't have any additional information we can provide at this time."

We received a warning from @twitter today stating we may be "targeted by state-sponsored actors"

— coldhak (@coldhakca) December 11, 2015

A Twitter spokesperson confirmed to CNET that the email notifications were sent out, but declined further comment.

It's not known which country might be behind such an act, but CNET highlights a few possibilities:

China and the US have for years traded accusations of high-tech espionage, while a massive hack last year that crippled Sony Entertainment and revealed the inner workings of the studio was traced by the FBI back to hackers working for the North Korea government.

Social media in particular has become a popular battlefield for hackers. The Syrian Electronic Army, a hacking group that supports the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has claimed responsibility for several hacks of news sites and company Web sites.

Sherr said some of the targets are anonymous online and try to keep themselves "behind a veil of secrecy, because they are not popular with a lot of governments."

"If you get any information about these people, be it their phone numbers, their IP addresses, which allow you to maybe figure out who their Internet connection is from and then be able to find them -- all of these things could be dangerous, particularly for very successful privacy advocates," he added.

Sherr said that this development traces back to the larger fight over free speech against oppressive governments around the world in recent years.

"You've got the Arab Spring and you've got all of these other things that have happened where people really weren't able to communicate without these types of tools (social media)," Sherr added. "So now, you have these people basically potentially being attacked online by state-sponsored hackers, which is really fascinating."

Right now, Sherr suggested that all Twitter can really do is alert the potentially targeted accounts and be watchful for any potential cyber attacks.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.