Weinergate: Was Anthony Weiner's Twitter account hacked? The evidence for and against.

Murder, theft, and other wickedness.
June 6 2011 11:00 AM

Tricky Dick

Was Anthony Weiner's Twitter account hacked? The evidence for and against.

Click to launch slideshow of other bad things that have happened to Weiner.

The controversy dubbed "Weinergate" has not lacked for Woodwards and Bernsteins. Ever since someone posted an image of an underwear-clad erection from New York Rep. Anthony Weiner's Twitter account late Friday night, online sleuths have examined everything from the trail of retweets to photo metadata to the relationship or lack thereof between Weiner and the 21-year-old Seattle woman to whom the message was directed. Yet for all the forensics, the jury is still out.

Weiner hasn't done much to settle the issue. Right after the photo went up, he (or someone in his office) removed the tweet and erased his account on Yfrog, the photo service used to post the picture. Weiner made light of the incident in a follow-up tweet: "Tivo shot. FB hacked. Is my blender gonna attack me next? #TheToasterIsVeryLoyal." But the questions kept coming: Why hadn't he reported the incident to law enforcement? Did he know the woman, Gennette Cordova? How could someone hijack his account? On Tuesday, he held a press conference where he refused to say whether the photo depicted him or whether he posted it. On Wednesday, he told NBC he couldn't say "with certitude" that it's not him in the picture. He now says he's hired a private security firm to investigate the incident.

Until that investigation is complete, we'll have to rely on the evidence that's public, for and against Weiner.

U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner. Click image to expand.
Rep. Anthony Weiner

First, Weiner's side. According to Weiner's spokesman, the congressman got an email a week earlier warning him that his Facebook account had been hacked, but no one did anything about it. Skeptics might read "someone hacked my Facebook" as the new "my dog ate my homework." Not so fast, say cybersecurity experts: It's easy to hack into someone's Twitter or Facebook account. "It could certainly plausibly happen," says Dave Marcus, director of security research and communications at McAfee.

One method would be to simply guess someone's password, which is a lot easier than you'd expect. If that doesn't work, you could use a "password cracker," a program that cycles rapidly through millions of different passwords, which can take as little as a few minutes. A hacker could also conduct a basic phishing scam by getting Weiner to click on a link that would download malicious password-tracking software onto his machine. Even just being on the same Wi-Fi network as Weiner would be enough to hijack his account.

Twitter and political forensics back up Weiner's story. The metadata in the photo don't match up with the data of other photos he has posted on Yfrog, supporting the argument that someone other than Weiner put it up. Plus, if he indeed meant to send the pic, it's hard to imagine him accidentally hitting "@" instead of "d"—the Twitter command for sending a direct message. From a political standpoint, the person who discovered and retweeted Weiner's photo just happens to be Dan Wolfe, a conservative who is obsessed with Weiner's Twitter relationship with young women and who earlier in May had promised "sex-scandal pics of a 'big time' Congressman." Why would he, of all people, be the first to spot it? (One possible answer: Tweets that begin with @ are seen only by the sender, the recipient, and any user who follows both. Wolfe, because of his interest in the females Weiner followed on Twitter, is probably one of the few who fit the bill.) Also in Weiner's favor: The woman to whom the photo was directed released a statement over the weekend saying the deleted tweet never reached her and that she's never met Weiner.

Yet circumstantial evidence raises questions about Weiner's account. He says he was live-tweeting a hockey game when the offending photo was posted. In fact, his Twitter feed shows that he began tweeting about the game only after the photo was posted. At 8 p.m. on Friday evening, Weiner tweeted, "Heading to 30 Rock to chat with Rachel [Maddow] at 9. #Thats545InSeattleIThink." Why would Weiner's followers care what time Maddow aired in Seattleexcept Cordova, who lives there?

Weiner's denials have been anything but categorical. At first he said his account was hacked but refused to answer questions about the photo. Then on Wednesday he said he didn't send the picture but couldn't be sure it wasn't him in it. He told Wolf Blitzer on CNN that the photo "certainly doesn't look familiar to me," as if it were a snapshot of a long-lost cousin.

An official investigation would clear all this up. A law enforcement agency could subpoena Twitter or Yfrog for the IP address from which the photo and tweet were posted. If that IP address pointed to a machine other than Weiner's, case closed. Or, if Weiner would rather avoid the hassle, he could always just drop trou.



The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

The GOP Senate Candidate in Iowa Doesn’t Want Voters to Know Just How Conservative She Really Is

Does Your Child Have “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo”? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

Naomi Klein Is Wrong

Multinational corporations are doing more than governments to halt climate change.

The Strange History of Wives Gazing at Their Husbands in Political Ads


See Me

Transparent is the fall’s only great new show.


Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD

The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
Sept. 30 2014 12:04 PM John Hodgman on Why He Wore a Blue Dress to Impersonate Ayn Rand
  News & Politics
Sept. 30 2014 1:38 PM Mad About Modi
 Why the controversial Indian prime minister drew 19,000 cheering fans to Madison Square Garden.

Building a Better Workplace
Sept. 30 2014 1:16 PM You Deserve a Pre-cation The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.
Sept. 30 2014 1:48 PM Thrashed Florida State’s new president is underqualified and mistrusted. But here’s how he can turn it around.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 30 2014 11:42 AM Listen to Our September Music Roundup Hot tracks from a cooler month, exclusively for Slate Plus members.
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 12:42 PM How to Save Broken Mayonnaise
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 11:55 AM The Justice Department Is Cracking Down on Sales of Spyware Used in Stalking
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath the Methane Lakes of Titan?
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.