Indian Computer Emergency Response System (Cert-In), the national nodal agency for monitoring cyber security incidents and threats, will reach out to Twitter and Google as part of its “full-scale investigation” into the hacking of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Twitter account for a brief while early Sunday when a tweet on Bitcoin was posted, The Indian Express has learnt.
Sources said Twitter will be asked about how the account was not flagged for breach by its automated systems when someone else tried to log in. Google will be asked to furnish details of the blogspot account linked to the Bitcoin tweet, they said.
“We will ask Twitter and Google for their version of the incident. Cert-In is expected to submit its probe report to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology soon,” an IT Ministry official said, adding that the probe will be led by a Joint Secretary-level official.
When contacted by The Indian Express earlier in the day, Twitter said: “As per our investigation to date, it appears that the account was not compromised due to any breach of Twitter’s systems.”
Responding to queries, a spokesperson of the company said: “We have 24×7 open lines of communication with the PM’s Office and our teams took necessary steps to secure the compromised account as soon as we became aware of this activity. Our investigation has revealed that there are no signs of any other impacted accounts at this time.”
At 2:11 am Sunday, Modi’s Twitter account sent out a tweet saying “India has officially adopted Bitcoin as a legal tender”. “The government has officially bought 500 BTC and is distributing them to all residents of the country,” it said. The tweet also had a link to a blog, with a postscript that said: “The future has come today”.
Nearly an hour later, another tweet from the official handle of the Prime Minister’s Office said the Prime Minister’s Twitter handle was “very briefly compromised” and that the matter had been raised with Twitter.
“The Twitter handle of PM @narendramodi was very briefly compromised. The matter was escalated to Twitter and the account…immediately secured. In the brief period that the account was compromised, any Tweet shared must be ignored,” the tweet from PMO said.
This is the second time in less than two years that Modi’s account has been hacked and tweets with links to cryptocurrency have been shared. In September 2020, the Twitter account linked to Modi’s personal website and app had sent out tweets asking for donations to the Prime Minister’s Covid relief fund through cryptocurrency.
Sunday’s hacking comes at a time when the Government is said to be bringing in a Bill to prohibit “all private cryptocurrencies in India” with “certain exceptions”.
The Bill seeks to “create a facilitative framework for the creation of the official digital currency to be issued by the Reserve Bank of India”. It also “seeks to prohibit all private cryptocurrencies in India, however, it allows for certain exceptions to promote the underlying technology of cryptocurrency and its uses”.
Last week, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had told Lok Sabha that the Government was not considering any proposal to recognise cryptocurrency as legal tender.
In July last year, the Twitter accounts of former president of the US Barack Obama, former vice-president and present president of the US Joe Biden, singer and rapper Kanye West, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and Tesla chief Elon Musk sent out identical tweets, which said that if people sent bitcoins on a certain link, they would double their money.
Though these tweets were removed, some of the accounts that were compromised sent out these tweets again just hours later. Following the mass breach, Twitter said that several of its employees, who had access to internal systems, had their accounts compromised in a “coordinated social engineering attack”, which resulted in the hack.
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