A 22-year-old British citizen was arrested in Spain in a July 2020 Twitter hack that compromised the accounts of prominent politicians and celebrities, the US Department of Justice said on Wednesday.
He named British man Joseph James O’Connor and said he faces several charges. He was also charged in a criminal complaint with computer intrusions linked to takeovers of TikTok and Snapchat accounts, including an incident involving sextortion, as well as cyberstalking of a 16-year-old minor.
A second anonymous person, identified as “Juvenile 1” in the criminal complaint, was also indicted in connection with the hack on July 30, 2020, in the Northern District of California for having played a “central role” in the Twitter attack using the nickname Kirk # 5270.
The hacker was later identified as Graham Ivan Clark, 18. Federal charges were dismissed and in March he pleaded guilty to state charges in Florida and agreed to serve three years in juvenile prison.
The July 2020 Twitter attack hijacked a variety of verified Twitter accounts, including then-Democratic candidate Joe Biden and Tesla CEO Elon Musk. The accounts of former US President Barack Obama, reality TV star Kim Kardashian, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Benjamin Netanyahu, Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg and Kayne West were also affected.
The alleged hacker used the accounts to solicit digital currency, prompting Twitter to take the extraordinary step of preventing certain verified accounts from posting messages for several hours until control of the accounts could be resumed.
According to the criminal complaint, cryptocurrency exchange accounts such as Binance, Gemini and Coinbase among others were also compromised, as well as those of companies like Apple and Uber Technologies Inc.
The messages tricked people into sending cryptocurrency to various accounts and generated around $ 117,000 through 415 transfers, according to the complaint. Two other bitcoin addresses that were released raised an additional $ 6,700 per 100 transactions.
Authorities allege that Juvenile 1 contacted several other people and claimed he could “reset, trade and control any Twitter account at will, and would do so in exchange for bitcoin transfers.”
Two of those Juvenile 1 recruited, Nima Fazeli and Mason Sheppard, have agreed to act as intermediaries to help find buyers for Twitter usernames in return for compensation, investigators say. Both Fazeli and Sheppard were indicted in the case on July 30, 2020, according to the complaint.
O’Connor’s alleged role in the attack came to light after the FBI interviewed another anonymous minor, called Juvenile 2, who identified him. Juvenile 2 said O’Connor communicated on access to certain Twitter accounts, possibly including that of former President Donald Trump.
California criminal investigators began receiving information about O’Connor, who uses the online nickname PlugwalkJoe, as early as 2018, according to the complaint.
A spokesperson for the Justice Department said O’Connor was due to have a detention hearing in Spain on Thursday.