Twitter source code: what is a source code, meaning and GitHub leak explained - is your data or account safe?

Billionaire Elon Musk is faced with yet another challenge in his ownership of Twitter

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Twitter has revealed that some of its source code has been posted online. In a legal filing, it said the social network's core computer code had been leaked on the website GitHub, a platform for software developers to share their code.

The San Francisco-based group claimed the source code postings infringe copyrights held by Twitter, and may have been public for many months. After a request, GitHub, which is owned by Microsoft, removed the code.

But what exactly is source code? Does this leak represent any risk to Twitter users’ personal data, and who leaked it in the first place? Here is everything you need to know about it.

What is source code?

The source code of an app, website or other online service refers to the underlying programming instructions that make up the software.

It is the set of instructions written in a specific programming language that dictates how the software works and what it can do, and contains all of the logic and commands that the software needs to execute its functions and provide its features and services.

(Photos: Getty Images)(Photos: Getty Images)
(Photos: Getty Images)

Think of it like the recipe for baking a cake. Without the recipe, you don’t know what ingredients to use, how long to bake the cake or what the end result should look like. Similarly, without the source code, developers don’t know how the software works or how to make changes to it.

Access to the source code is essential for developers who want to modify, enhance or build upon an existing application. It allows them to understand how the software works, identify and fix bugs, add new features, and optimise performance.

However, access to the source code is typically restricted and may be subject to intellectual property laws, copyrights or other legal protections.

Who leaked the Twitter source code?

Twitter also asked the District Court of the Northern District of California, where it filed its legal document, to provide information on who was behind the account which leaked the code.

Twitter’s legal filing reportedly said the leaker went under the name of FreeBeach Enthusiast on GitHub – a reference to the fact that Musk calls himself a free-speech enthusiast.

The incident comes just days after Musk said he would make the code that Twitter uses to recommend tweets publicly available by the end of this month. The move, he said, was to allow the code to be reviewed by anyone and scrutinised for possible flaws.

The leaker reportedly went under the name of ‘FreeBeach Enthusiast’ – a reference to the fact that Musk calls himself a ‘free-speech enthusiast’ (Photo: Getty Images) The leaker reportedly went under the name of ‘FreeBeach Enthusiast’ – a reference to the fact that Musk calls himself a ‘free-speech enthusiast’ (Photo: Getty Images)
The leaker reportedly went under the name of ‘FreeBeach Enthusiast’ – a reference to the fact that Musk calls himself a ‘free-speech enthusiast’ (Photo: Getty Images)

Is my Twitter privacy at risk?

There have been no hints that the 450 million monthly active users of Twitter have had their privacy or personal information jeopardised in any way by the source code leak.

While the extent of the leak has not been clarified - legal documents suggest online “parts” of it were posted online - the posting of the source code of a large social media service like Twitter could have significant consequences.

Again, there have been no suggestions that personal data or the privacy of Twitter’s existing users has been compromised in any way, but if source code was to fall into the wrong hands, it could make it easier for hackers to identify and exploit vulnerabilities in the software, leading to potential data breaches, identity theft, and other security threats.

From a business perspective, if a competitor got hold of the source code, they could use it to copy the features and functionality of the social media service. This could lead to a loss of market share and revenue for the original service.

On the other hand, if the source code was publicly available, it could also lead to increased customization and innovation, and developers could create new features and tools based on the existing code, leading to a more vibrant ecosystem of third-party apps and services.

How do I change my Twitter password?

To clarify once more, there are no indications that any of Twitter's users' personal information or privacy has been jeopardised. But if you are worried, you can always change your password to help keep your account secure.

Here are the steps to change your Twitter password:

  1. Log in to your Twitter account on the Twitter website.
  2. Click on your profile picture in the top right corner and select “Settings and privacy” from the drop-down menu.
  3. Click on the “Account” tab in the left-hand menu.
  4. Under “Login and security,” click on “Password.”
  5. Enter your current password and then enter your new password twice to confirm it.
  6. Click “Save” to save your new password.