NEW DELHI: A former Twitter Inc security chief has alleged that the Indian government forced the social media firm to put a government agent on the payroll, according to a whistleblower disclosure with US regulators.

Peiter ‘Mudge’ Zatko raised the issue with the US Securities and Exchange Commission among other security lapse claims at Twitter.

He said the government agent would have had access to sensitive user data due to Twitter’s weak security infrastructure, according to a redacted version of the complaint uploaded by The Washington Post newspaper and verified by Zatko’s attorney at Whistleblower Aid.

A company source said that the allegations about the India government had surfaced previously within Twitter, without elaborating further. Representatives for India’s IT ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The platform also underestimated the number of automated bots

“What we’ve seen so far is a false narrative about Twitter and our privacy and data security practices that is riddled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies and lacks important context,” a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement regarding Zatko’s allegations.

Twitter is engaged in a legal challenge against the Indian government after it asked a local court in July to overturn some government orders to remove content from the social media platform, and alleged abuse of power by officials. The next hearing in the case is set for Thursday.

“The company did not in fact disclose to users that it was believed by the executive team that the Indian government had succeeded in placing agents on the company payroll,” Zatko’s complaint noted.

The Washington Post report said that supporting information for Zatko’s claims had gone to the National Security Division of the US Justice Department and the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Earlier this month, a US court convicted a former Twitter manager accused of spying for Saudi Arabia on six criminal counts, including acting as an agent for the country and trying to disguise a payment from an official tied to Saudi’s royal family.

Peiter Zatko also accused Twitter of significantly underestimating the number of automated bots on the platform — a key element in Musk’s argument for withdrawing his $44 billion buyout deal.

CNN quotes the disclosure by Zatko as accusing Twitter of “negligence, willful ignorance, and threats to national security and democracy.” Zatko, who Twitter says it fired earlier this year for poor performance, warns of obsolete servers, software vulnerable to computer attacks and executives seeking to hide the number of hacking attempts, both to US authorities and to the company’s board of directors.

The hacker-turned-executive, who goes by the nickname “Mudge,” also claims that Twitter prioritises growing its user base over fighting spam and bots, according to the reports.

Published in Dawn, August 24th, 2022

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