The story of @N: Rare Twitter account 'stolen'

A software developer named Naoki Hiroshima says he faced extortion if he didn't give up the password to his Twitter account

James Vincent
Friday 31 January 2014 11:40

A rare Twitter username has become the subject of an ownership dispute after the individual who first registered it, a software developer named Naoki Hiroshima, claimed hackers forced him to surrender the account.

Writing in a blog post on Wednesday, Mr Hiroshima said that he had owned the rare @N Twitter account since 2007. "I've been offered as much as $50,000 for it," he wrote. "People have tried to steal it. Password reset instructions are a regular sight in my email inbox."

On 20 January an unknown attacker identifying themselves as 'Social Media King' took control of Mr Hiroshima's other web properties and held them to ransom. The price? Control of the @N account.

"I would also like to inform you that your GoDaddy domains are in my possession," wrote Social Media King in an email to Hiroshima, "one fake purchase and they can be repossessed by godaddy and never seen again D:

"I see you run quite a few nice websites so I have left those alone for now [...] Would you be willing to compromise?"

Mr Hiroshima writes that he "concluded that giving up the account right away would be the only way to avoid an irreversible disaster" and duly handed over his password.

The attacker then revealed that he had gained access to the websites by first pretending to be a PayPal employee to find out Mr Hiroshima's card number. With this information he was able to 'prove' that he was the owner of the GoDaddy domains and reset their passwords.

This last point has angered many individuals on the internet, who have criticised PayPal for giving away sensitive information over the phone. Mr Hiroshima himself ended his original blog post by warning that "stupid companies may give out your personal information to the wrong person" and that he would be leaving "GoDaddy and PayPal as soon as possible".

The two companies have responded to the story. Although GoDaddy admitted that they had been "socially engineered (the term refers to confidence tricks used to obtain information), PayPal say that they have "carefully reviewed [their] records" and that they "did not divulge any personal or financial information".

In a further twist in the story, Twitter reportedly banned the @N account but somehow allowed it to be registered by another anonymous individual. Mr Hiroshima, who tweets from the @N_is_stolen account, recently sent out the following message:

The new owner of the @N account has changed the name to "Follow Badal_NEWS", directing users to yet another Twitter account. This particular account is private (meanings its tweets and follower can't be viewed) and its bio is written in Urdu, the national language of Pakistan.

This ties in with the account's username ('badal' can refer to a code of ethics amongst the Pashtun people - one of the primary ethnic groups of Pakistan) but beyond these nonsensical 'clues', it's not clear who now owns the @N account. To many observers this will seem like a storm in a teacup, but for others the mystery is intruiging.

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