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TikTok apologizes after its employees hacked accounts of two reporters | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #hacker


TikTok apologized for its employees hacking the accounts of at least two journalists and several other users’ accounts in an attempt to discover where a leak had come from. 

Financial Times reporter Cristina Criddle and former Buzzfeed writer Emily Baker-White – who now works for Forbes – had their TikTok accounts hacked by four ByteDance employees. ByteDance is TikTok’s parent company. 

White identified herself as one of those hacked, writing on Twitter: ‘ByteDance used TikTok to track my location – and the locations of two of my colleagues – to try to find our sources. We reported on this back in October but kept things vague to protect sources. Today ByteDance admitted it…’ 

The Financial Times identified Criddle as the victim in a report published on Thursday. 

Forbes claims that Richard Nieva and Katharine Schwab were also tracked. Internal emails at TikTok admit to tracking a Financial Times reporter (Criddle) and a Buzzfeed reporter (White), as well as a ‘small number of people connected to the reporters.’   

Financial Times reporter Cristina Criddle and former Buzzfeed writer Emily Baker-White (pictured) - who now works for Forbes - had their TikTok accounts hacked by four ByteDance employees. White has extensively reported on the company for both Buzzfeed and Forbes. The employees became investigating her after she published an article in Buzzfeed in June about US data being accessed in China through the app

Financial Times reporter Cristina Criddle and former Buzzfeed writer Emily Baker-White (pictured) – who now works for Forbes – had their TikTok accounts hacked by four ByteDance employees. White has extensively reported on the company for both Buzzfeed and Forbes. The employees became investigating her after she published an article in Buzzfeed in June about US data being accessed in China through the app 

Criddle has also written several articles about the company, including an article the claimed dozens of TikTok employees were leaving the London office over toxic working conditions and because a so-called 'kill list' of colleagues the company reportedly wanted to force out

Criddle has also written several articles about the company, including an article the claimed dozens of TikTok employees were leaving the London office over toxic working conditions and because a so-called 'kill list' of colleagues the company reportedly wanted to force out

Criddle has also written several articles about the company, including an article the claimed dozens of TikTok employees were leaving the London office over toxic working conditions and because a so-called ‘kill list’ of colleagues the company reportedly wanted to force out

Forbes also claimed that Katharine Schwab were also tracked, however, internal emails at TikTok only admit to tracking a Financial Times reporter (Criddle) and a Buzzfeed reporter (White), but did look into a 'small number of people connected to the reporters'

Forbes also claimed that Katharine Schwab were also tracked, however, internal emails at TikTok only admit to tracking a Financial Times reporter (Criddle) and a Buzzfeed reporter (White), but did look into a 'small number of people connected to the reporters'

Forbes also claimed that Richard Nieva were also tracked, however, internal emails at TikTok only admit to tracking a Financial Times reporter (Criddle) and a Buzzfeed reporter (White), but did look into a 'small number of people connected to the reporters'

Forbes also claimed that Richard Nieva were also tracked, however, internal emails at TikTok only admit to tracking a Financial Times reporter (Criddle) and a Buzzfeed reporter (White), but did look into a 'small number of people connected to the reporters'

Forbes also claimed that Richard Nieva and Katharine Schwab were also tracked, however, internal emails at TikTok only admit to tracking a Financial Times reporter (Criddle) and a Buzzfeed reporter (White), but did look into a ‘small number of people connected to the reporters’ 

The four ByteDance employees – two based in the US and two in China – were attempting to discover where internal conversations were leaked by tracking Criddle and White’s IP addresses to see if they had been in proximity with any ByteDance employees. 

The employees were part of a team that monitors employee conduct, but they failed to find any connection between the journalists and their fellow employees. They have since been fired and the team no longer has access to US data. 

ByteDance’s Chief Internal Auditor, Chris Lepitak – who was responsible for the team that hacked the journalists’ accounts – was also fired and China-based executive Song Ye, who Lepitak reported to, has since resigned, according to Forbes. 

ByteDance CEO Rubo Liang revealed the findings in an email to employees, reportedly telling them: ‘I was deeply disappointed when I was notified of the situation…and I’m sure you feel the same. The public trust that we have spent huge efforts building is going to be significantly undermined by the misconduct of a few individuals.’

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew also addressed the situation, telling employees: ‘We take data security incredibly seriously’ and that the company has worked hard for over a year to create a new US-based data storage program to show its ‘testament to that commitment,’ according to The New York Times. 

The investigation began after White published an article on Buzzfeed News in June 2022, where she listened to 80 internal TikTok meetings that were leaked that indicated US user data was repeatedly being accessed from China. 

She also later published an article in Forbes in October 2022, claiming ByteDance planned to use TikTok to monitor the location of specific American citizens. 

Criddle has also written several articles about the company, including an article that claimed dozens of TikTok employees were leaving the London office over toxic working conditions and because of a so-called ‘kill list’ of colleagues the company reportedly wanted to force out. 

ByteDance CEO Rubo Liang revealed the findings in an email to employees, reportedly telling them: 'I was deeply disappointed when I was notified of the situation...The public trust that we have spent huge efforts building is going to be significantly undermined by the misconduct of a few individuals'

ByteDance CEO Rubo Liang revealed the findings in an email to employees, reportedly telling them: 'I was deeply disappointed when I was notified of the situation...The public trust that we have spent huge efforts building is going to be significantly undermined by the misconduct of a few individuals'

ByteDance CEO Rubo Liang revealed the findings in an email to employees, reportedly telling them: ‘I was deeply disappointed when I was notified of the situation…The public trust that we have spent huge efforts building is going to be significantly undermined by the misconduct of a few individuals’ 

TikTok CEO Shou Chew also addressed the situation, telling employees: 'We take data security incredibly seriously' and that the company has worked hard for over a year to create a new US-based data storage program to show its 'testament to that commitment'

TikTok CEO Shou Chew also addressed the situation, telling employees: 'We take data security incredibly seriously' and that the company has worked hard for over a year to create a new US-based data storage program to show its 'testament to that commitment'

TikTok CEO Shou Chew also addressed the situation, telling employees: ‘We take data security incredibly seriously’ and that the company has worked hard for over a year to create a new US-based data storage program to show its ‘testament to that commitment’ 

The bomb comes after several US lawmakers and both the Trump and Biden administrations raised concerns about security risks and privacy associated with TikTok for the past few years. 

Dozens of states have banned the popular social media platform from federal devices and several called to protect American data from the Chinese government, The New York Times reported. 

TikTok is currently negotiating with the Treasury Department’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the US, which will decide how the app handles Americans’ personal user data. 

It has started to move US data stateside to a new data center called Oracle – based in Silicon Valley – to help give US lawmakers and American citizens peace of mind. 

White self-identified herself on Twitter (pictured), while the Financial Times identified Criddle

White self-identified herself on Twitter (pictured), while the Financial Times identified Criddle

White self-identified herself on Twitter (pictured), while the Financial Times identified Criddle 

However, past data accessed by the four employees were still available outside of the Oracle cloud, The New York Times reported. TikTok has said it does plan on deleting all historical data outside of the Oracle systems. 

The purpose of the Oracle system is to protect US data from the Chinese government. 

Senator Josh Hawley has previously called TikTok the ‘back door for the Communist Party to track keystrokes, contact lists, and location, and there is no way to turn it off.’ 

‘Under Chinese law, ByteDance is obligated to turn over data and that is a major privacy risk for Americans,’ he said earlier this week. 

Hawley has introduced a bill that would ban the app on all federal devices.  

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