Twitter Hack Highlights Underground Trade in Handles

Posted by Richard on September 8, 2020

In mid-July, hackers rocked the internet by taking over accounts of high-profile Twitter figures and using the accounts for a bitcoin scam, among other things.
Suddenly in the afternoon, accounts from Joe Biden, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, President Barak Obama, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and investment mogul Warren Buffet all announced that they were going to double any bitcoin donations sent to them.
More than 383 people sent bitcoin, snagging more than $100,000 for the hackers.
But the hack has also shed light on an illegal underground commerce: Stealing, buying and selling short-character Twitter account names.
According to Krebs On Security, these short handles are called OG (Original Gangster) accounts and owning one means status in underground communities. Certain Twitter handles can be worth thousands of dollars.
The Twitter handles are stolen by taking control of the account, changing the email address, then contacting a middleman who resells the handle.
Among the activities of these underground communities is SIM swapping. Swapping SIMS is actually a common, legal act. When you get a new phone, you swap SIMS via your telephone company to make your old number work on the new phone. But it can also be done illegally by fraud, bribery, hacking, or relentless attacks on telecom employees. The hacks are often done for purposes of theft, using a hijacked phone to access bank accounts or bitcoin, for example.
According to The New York Times and Krebs, known SIM swappers may well have been involved in the Twitter attack.