‘Spying’ by former Twitter employees for Saudi Arabia underscore risks
The allegations of spying by former Twitter employees for Saudi Arabia underscore the risks for Silicon Valley firms holding sensitive data which make the platforms ripe for espionage.
The two Saudis and one US citizen allegedly worked together to unmask the ownership details behind dissident Twitter accounts on behalf of the Riyadh government and royal family, according to a federal indictment.
Analysts say the incident shows how massive databases held by Silicon Valley giants can be juicy targets for intelligence agencies, which can often apply pressure to company insiders.
“The Twitter case shows how data is not only an asset but a liability for companies,” said Adrian Shahbaz, research director for technology and democracy at the human rights group Freedom House.
“For companies collecting massive amounts of data, the challenge is how to keep it secure not only from hackers, but from rogue employees.”
Shahbaz said platforms such as Twitter and Facebook remain important tools for human rights activists, but that users should be aware of potential for data leaks — both in their countries, and from insiders.
“It’s been alarming to see how governments using tactics to exploit the inherent weaknesses of the internet… go after people expressing dissent,” he said.
“It’s a constant cat-and-mouse game between users and very well-resourced governments.”
Bruce Schneier, a security researcher and fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, said it is not surprising to see governments targeting databases of tech platforms.
“We all assume it happens a lot. But this (prosecution) rarely comes up,” Schneier said.