Twitter Agreed To Pay Whistleblower $7m – Report


Settlement for $7 million between Twitter and Peiter “Mudge” Zatko was made days before former security boss filed his whistleblower complaint

A fresh twist has been added to the bitter fallout between Twitter and its former head of security turned whistleblower, Peiter “Mudge” Zatko.

The Wall Street Journal reported that just days before Zatko filed his explosive whistleblower claim with federal authorities, Twitter and Zatko had reached a confidential settlement over the decision in January by CEO Parag Agrawal to fire both him and Rinki Sethi, the chief information security officer.

Both Zatko and Sethi had joined the platform in November 2020, following a hack that allowed teenagers to tweet from the verified accounts of public figures such as Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Tesla chief executive Elon Musk.

Twitter chief executive Parag Agrawal. Image credit: Twitter
Twitter chief executive Parag Agrawal. Image credit: Twitter

Twitter settlement

Twitter alleged that Zatko had been fired for “ineffective leadership and poor performance,” but Zatko maintained he was fired in retaliation for concerns he was raising about security vulnerabilities.

The settlement in June saw Twitter agree to pay Zatko roughly $7 million in relation to Zatko’s lost compensation.

It followed months long mediation over tens of millions of dollars in potential pay, the WSJ reported.

Reportedly, as part of the settlement, Zatko agreed to a non-disclosure agreement that forbid him from speaking publicly about his time at Twitter or disparaging the company, the WSJ reported.

Explosive allegations

However days after this settlement, Zatko filed his explosive whistleblower complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission in July.

In his complaint, Zatko warned that Twitter was vulnerable to foreign influence and painted a picture of a chaotic and reckless environment at a mismanaged company that allowed too many of its staff access to the platform’s central controls and most sensitive information, without adequate oversight.

Zatko also alleged that some of the company’s senior-most executives had been trying to cover up Twitter’s serious vulnerabilities, and he also accused the firm of making misleading statements about its defences against hackers and spam accounts.

‘Deliberate ignorance was the norm among the executive leadership team,’ Zatko claimed in the whistleblower complaint.

Zatko also alleged that Twitter deployed ‘mostly outdated, unmonitored simple scripts plus overworked, inefficient, understaffed and reactive human teams’ to detect bot accounts.

Zatko also took aim at a tweet made by CEO Agrawal back in May that said Twitter was ‘strongly incentivised to detect and remove as much spam as we possibly can.’

The complaint alleged that ‘Agrawal’s tweet was a lie,’ and added: ‘Agrawal knows very well that Twitter executives are not incentivized to accurately ‘detect’ or report total spam bots on the platform.’

He also claimed that one or more current employees at Twitter may be working for a foreign intelligence service.

Elon Musk

Of course, Elon Musk’s team were quick to subpoena Zatko to aid in his counter lawsuit against Twitter.

Earlier this week Chancellor Kathaleen McCormick of Delaware’s Court of Chancery denied Elon Musk’s attempts to delay the 17 October courtroom showdown with Twitter, over Musk’s bid to walk away from his $44 billion deal for the company.

However at the same time the Delaware judge also granted Musk’s request to add the whistleblower claims to his Twitter countersuit.

Zatko is due to testify next week in a Senate hearing on 13 September, the same day that Twitter shareholders are set to vote on whether to approve Elon Musk’s takeover deal.