Does Elon Musk Owning Twitter Increase Cyber Security Risks?

Elon Musk has finally bought Twitter for $44 billion and Saudi Arabian Prince Alwaleed bin Talal helped Musk finance the $44 billion acquisition of Twitter by rolling over his $1.9 billion shares in the social media company. That decision makes Saudi entities the second-largest shareholder in Twitter, behind only Musk himself.

Now US Senator Chris Murphy is calling on the federal government to investigate national security concerns raised by Saudi Arabia’s role in Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter. “We should be concerned that the Saudis, who have a clear interest in repressing political speech and impacting US politics, are now the second-largest owner of a major social media platform,” Senator  Murphy said in a Twitter tweet.

Critics of Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter say it will reduce the limits on hate speech and misinformation. Furthermore, some say acquisition also presents major cyber security concerns. Now that a critical public communications network has become private property, there are major cyber risks to be addressed.

Elon Musk’s fortune comes from owning Tesla; he had to sell off some of his stock to gain the cash needed to complete the Twitter deal. However, Tesla depends on the Chinese Communist Party’s good graces not just for its manufacturing (its Gigafactory in Shanghai makes over 70,000 cars a month), but also 24% of its revenue and its primary growth market.

This means a crucial communications network is now owned by a man whose business and personal fortune are open to the influence of an authoritarian government, one that has proven itself to happy to use intimidation against both companies and other governments for political purposes.

Not so long ago, Twitter was considered a "wild west," where threat actors who ranged from ISIS to Neo-Nazis to Russian trolls ran wild, easily pushing hate, calls for violence and disinformation on topics ranging from elections to the pandemic. 

Over time, Twitter's management - now dismissed by Musk - learned several hard lessons and Twitter developed a range of policies for user safety and content moderation. Not everyone agreed on them, but they transformed the social media platform into a less hateful place and some commentators are questioning what might happen ow that Twitter is run by someone who doesn’t just oppose the concept of content moderation, but is himself a frequent and often controversial user?

According to reports, the new owner intends to improve Twitters profitability to recover his investment and has already introduced a fee for users who want to keep or register to be awarded the blue tick signifying a verified user. The blue Verified badge on Twitter lets people know that an account of public interest is authentic. To receive the blue badge, your account must be authentic, notable, and active.

Another measure to improve profitability is to cut costs by cutting the workforce, possibly by as much as 75 percent and large-scale dismissals have already been announced. Such massive headcount reductions are likely to affect security team numbers, capability, and overall workforce quality. A drop in cyber security resilience is a concern for the hundreds of millions of Twitter users, from celebrities to service members, whose personal information is held by the platform.

Critics argue that this danger goes beyond protecting users' data privacy. This is because of the  particularly influential role that Twitter plays in the social media ecosystem where it is the 'go-to place' for policymakers, the media and large numbers of the public to find and share information on fast-moving topics of news, especially during crises, conflict and elections.

Twitter:    DefenseOne:     CNN:    Bloomberg:     Wired:     Trend Micro:  

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