Why did a Nazi-themed Twitter hack target Unicef, Amnesty International, and Seabrook Crisps?

Thousands of prominent Twitter users have been tweeting the hashtags “Nazi Germany” and “Nazi Holland”. 

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If you logged onto Twitter this morning you might have noticed some uncharacteristic swastikas being tweeted from major users of the site. Amnesty International and Unicef USA were among those targeted by the hack, which saw prominent accounts tweet a message in Turkish that read: “#NaziGermany #NaziNetherlands, a little #OTTOMAN SLAP for you, see you on #April16th.”

Thousands of accounts tweeted the message, from Forbes and BBC North America, to Starbucks Argentina and Seabrooks Crisps. The reason for these varied victims is that the accounts were hacked via a vulnerability in a third-party app called “Twitter Counter”. This app is an analytics service which provides users with statistics about their accounts (incidentally, if you have ever used Twitter Counter, here’s how to revoke its permissions).

The tweets also contained a link to YouTube video which is supportive of Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The hashtag about 16 April refers to the date when Turkey is planning to hold a referendum on whether to grant stronger powers to the leader. Some users also had their profile pictures changed to feature a Turkish flag or Turkish iconography.

The hack is related to Turkey’s recent conflict with the Netherlands, after the Dutch government refused to allow Turkey’s Family and Social Policy Minister, Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya, into the country. In response, Erdoğan called the Dutch “Nazi remnants”. Erdoğan also accused the German government of “fascist antics” after Turkish minsters were banned from holding rallies in the country.  

“I have said that I had thought Nazism was over, but that I was wrong. Nazism is alive in the West,” he said on Sunday.

It is not apparent who specifically is behind the hack, except that they are pro-Erdoğan and anti-Netherlands and Germany. It is unclear if they are connected to the state or are independent activists. Many of the targeted accounts have now taken back control of their Twitter profiles.

A Twitter spokesperson revealed the social network is now investigating the matter, while Twitter Counter took to Twitter to say it has “taken measures to contain such abuse”. The app has been hacked previously, in November 2016, with accounts such as Playstation and The New Yorker sending spam messages.