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How an Online Attack ‘Brought Twitter to Its Knees’



[MUSIC PLAYING] “On July 15, 2020, I was working from home, talking to one of my sources in the crypto world and idly scrolling through Twitter.” “I’m scrolling through Twitter, like I do way too often. And I saw a tweet from Elon Musk — ‘if you send me $1,000 worth Bitcoin, I’ll send you back $2000,’ which felt like an obvious scam. I just thought oh, someone finally hacked his account. Good for them, I guess. And then I started seeing all these other accounts starting to get hit.” “I was seeing this same tweet coming up from Apple, Uber —” ”— Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates —” ”— Joe Biden —” ”— Barack Obama —” ”— Michael Bloomberg, Floyd Mayweather —” ”— Kanye West —” ”— and, of course, Kim Kardashian.” “Twitter turned off tweeting for all the verified accounts.” “And it suddenly became clear just how significant Twitter was. And they literally brought Twitter to its knees. The first thought was this is too sophisticated for this just to be a Bitcoin scam. It immediately sort of recalled the 2016 elections, when the DNC gets hacked and Hillary Clinton’s emails are floating out there. All this personal information about the most significant cultural, business and political figures had been penetrated. Everybody was just sort of waiting with bated breath to figure out who was behind the attack.” “Teenagers.” [ROCK MUSIC] “Federal law enforcement agents arrested 17-year-old Graham Clark for being the mastermind behind the July 15 hack of Twitter.” [ROCK MUSIC]

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CreditCredit…The New York Times Presents/FX/Hulu

Producer/Director John Pappas
Reporters Kate Conger and Nathaniel Popper

It seemed like an inside job.

Some of the world’s most famous and powerful people had been hacked on Twitter.

The accounts of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Kanye West, Kim Kardashian and Joe Biden were compromised and taken over by unknown scammers looking to line their digital pockets with Bitcoin.

The stunning attack in July sent Twitter into lockdown and alarmed cybersecurity experts who feared the worst.

“This is too sophisticated for this to just be a Bitcoin scam,” said Nathaniel Popper, a finance and technology reporter for The New York Times. “All of this personal information about the most significant cultural, business and political figures had been penetrated.”

Who was behind this brazen breach of one of the most visible platforms on the internet, and how did they do it?

In a new documentary by The New York Times on FX and Hulu, Popper and Kate Conger, a Times technology reporter, track down some of the hackers who participated in the online scheme.

Interviews with these anonymous online outlaws reveal that the attack was not the work of a rogue Twitter employee, a hostile government or nefarious intelligence agency. The hack was hatched, they said, by a teenager from Florida who appears to have first developed an online playbook for ripping people off while immersed in the game Minecraft.

Watch in our new documentary how this disaffected teenager raised on video games and social media, and a group of young people whom he had never met in real life, now stand accused of bringing Twitter to its knees.

Watch on Friday, Nov. 20, at 10 p.m. on FX and streaming on Hulu.

Senior Editor Liz Day
Directors of Photography Jarred Alterman and Andreas Burgess
Video Editors Pierre Takal and Nathan Punwar
Associate Producer Salwa Shameem

“The New York Times Presents” is a series of documentaries representing the unparalleled journalism and insight of The New York Times, bringing viewers close to the essential stories of our time.