An Australian company has been given the green light by a court in a bid to find out the identity of a “mole” who published its secret financial information on Twitter
The company, which cannot be named for legal reasons, had swathes of its confidential information published by four Twitter accounts beginning in May this year.
The first account – which impersonated the company’s CEO – had been tweeting for three days when it was discovered on May 19. It threatened to expose more material at midnight, and lawyers for the company demanded that Twitter shut the account down.
The social network complied, however it refused to reveal who was behind the account unless it was ordered to by a court.
In the following months, several “phoenix” accounts followed in its wake, including a second account on June 13 that posed as another senior employee and threatened to tweet damaging information within 48 hours.
That account was permanently suspended, but it wouldn’t be long until the tweeter was back.
In late August, a third account emerged with a “cryptic” message, then began firing off tweets in rapid succession.
Eleven “venomous” tweets that disclosed the company’s financial information appeared on the same day.
In a hearing at Sydney’s Supreme Court in mid-September, barrister Justin Williams said the monetary figures published by the account were not merely an estimate.
“That is the correct figure, that’s not a guess,” he said. “It is only explicable that someone with knowledge of that has disclosed it.”
The “increasingly bold” account threatened to expose more information, however Twitter refused to shut it down as it said it did not violate its terms of service.
Urgent proceedings were then launched in the Supreme Court that led to the account being blocked in Australia.
A fourth account was opened shortly after, tweeting, “We are back up”.
Mr Williams told the court as soon as one account was shut down, another popped up in its place.
“It’s like a carnival game at Luna Park,” he said. “You thump the gopher on the head, then another one pops up.
“Assuming it’s the same individual, it’s popped up four accounts now. There’s no reason there won’t be a fifth or a sixth.”
All four accounts were permanently suspended after the court action was launched against Twitter Inc and Twitter International.
The company is now attempting to reveal the identity of the “malicious” poster, to stop them from tweeting further.
This month the company’s lawyers sought a court order to uncover the tweeter’s name, IP address, phone number, email address and location, as well as any related accounts with the same linked email.
Justice Michael Pembroke told the hearing there was “a constant threat that the same malevolent person may act again”.
“And even if you act quickly, that won’t be good enough,” he said.
Justice Pembroke acknowledged at a previous hearing that the company must be “curious” about who was making the accounts.
“The culprit is probably an employee?” Justice Pembroke asked. “There may be a mole inside [the company].”
Mr Williams responded, “We simply do not know”.
The “highly sensitive” confidential information disclosed included the company’s margins, projected financial information and engagement with clients.
One of the tweets was “highly sensitive internal information on a client” and others included instructions on how to use the leaked information.
Mr Williams said the “universe of persons who have access to that information” is restricted to partners of the company.
In a judgment on Thursday, Justice Pembroke said it was clear the author of the tweets “has access to some of the plaintiff’s financial records”.
“I make orders substantially in accordance with the orders sought by the plaintiff,” he said.
Lawyers for Twitter did not attend any of the court hearings.