Twitch data breach: What you need to know

7 October 2021, 09:40 | Updated: 7 October 2021, 12:04

The source code of Twitch was posted online
The source code of Twitch was posted online. Picture: Alamy
Will Guyatt, technology correspondent

By Will Guyatt, technology correspondent

“With great power comes great responsibility".

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When you’re owned by the world’s richest business and stuff goes wrong, people are right to raise their eyebrows and wonder why it happened.

But when hackers essentially post your entire operation online, it's time to stop and think how Amazon could have let it happen.

This is an attack so large, so far reaching and so severe that you wonder just how a data breach of this size could have been carried out without a single alarm going off at Amazon HQ.

What is Twitch?

You probably haven’t heard of Twitch - and I’ll let you off if you haven’t.

Founded in 2011, it started off as a place where people would essentially broadcast themselves playing video games - over the years audiences grew rapidly.

Like you might sit and watch Strictly on Saturday night - millions of people worldwide watch their favourite gamers, and communicate with each other over chat. It sounds almost impenetrable to those who don’t understand gaming culture - but it works. It works so well that Amazon purchased Twitch back in 2014 for $1bn.

Twitch has continued to grow, and came into its own during lockdown - when people were at home, had time on their hands and were looking for entertainment - they don’t reveal numbers, but it’s said around 50m people regularly stream their gaming on Twitter - and hundreds of millions watch them.

How much money is at stake?

In 2020, industry analysts say Twitch made an estimated $2.3bn revenue - and an eye-watering 18.6bn hours was consumed. This year - there’s an average of 2.84m viewers watching content on Twitch at any given time - a number your average TV or radio broadcaster would bite your arm off for.

What was leaked?

Back to the Twitch leak - it would appear the breach is potentially so severe that the source code of the site was reportedly posted online - not just the digital equivalent of the Colonel’s chicken recipe being dumped on the web, but also revealing many the nuts and bolts that hold the entirety of the platform together - ironically including tools designed to keep hackers at bay.

If this is current day Twitch source code, and not an older version, it’s almost impossible to put the genie back in the bottle - it could be like changing the locks on your house when someone has a skeleton key.

This isn’t just about revealing the inherent workings of the platform, which could put users at risk - it also seems that data has been revealed about Twitch’s payments to its top creators.

If you stream on Twitch and get a big audience, the company will give you a payout of ad revenue and the money users pay to subscribe to your channel.

The breach indicates that over 80 streamers made more than $1m for Twitch in 2020 - exactly the sort of information those superstar streamers and the platform would not wish to leak - potentially damaging their ability to earn and negotiate more deals.

Just a day into the leak, a website exists where you can search any Twitch username to see if they appear in the top 10,000 earners.

Twitch have confirmed the hack was undertaken by a malicious third party and are promising regular updates, but given that online searches for “how to delete Twitch” grew more than 800% in a day - it’s likely that Jeff Bezos might be considering which members of the Twitch tech team he can blast into space on his next rocket.