On Wednesday, a British national, 22, was arrested in Spain for hacking into high-profile politicians’ and celebrities’ accounts on Twitter in July 2020, the US Justice Department announced. The report named the British man as Joseph James O’Connor and said he was facing multiple charges.
Additionally, a criminal complaint accused him of computer intrusions related to the hacking of TikTok and Snapchat accounts, including one incident involving sextortion, as well as cyberstalking a 16-year-old. Another individual, identified as ‘Juvenile 1’ in the criminal complaint, was also charged on July 30, 2020, in the Northern District of California for playing a ‘central role’ in the Twitter attack using the handle Kirk#5270.
Graham Ivan Clark, 18, was later identified as the teen. In March, he pleaded guilty to state charges in Florida and agreed to serve three years in a juvenile prison after the federal charges were dismissed. Several verified Twitter accounts were hijacked in the July 2020 Twitter attack, including those of then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and Tesla CEO Elon Musk. The hacker also struck accounts of former President Barack Obama, Kim Kardashian, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Benjamin Netanyahu, Jeff Bezos and Michael Bloomberg.
The hackers used the accounts to solicit digital currency, prompting Twitter to take the unusual step of preventing some verified accounts from posting messages for several hours until security could be restored. Furthermore, the criminal complaint states that companies like Apple Inc. and Uber Technologies Inc. also compromised, as well as cryptocurrency exchanges like Binance, Gemini and Coinbase.
Using the messages, people were directed to send cryptocurrency to various accounts, and received $117,000 through 415 transfers, according to the complaint. Additionally, two other bitcoin addresses collected $6,700 through 100 transactions. Juvenile 1 is alleged to have reached out to a number of other individuals and claimed to be able to ‘reset, swap, and control any Twitter account at will, and would do so in exchange for bitcoin transfers’.
According to investigators, Nima Fazeli and Mason Sheppard were recruited by Juvenile 1 to help find buyers for Twitter usernames in exchange for a fee. Fazeli and Sheppard were both criminally charged in the case on July 30, 2020, according to the complaint. During the FBI interview with Juvenile 2, O’Connor’s role in the attack emerged. Juvenile 2 stated that O’Connor had communicated about getting access to certain Twitter accounts, including perhaps that of former President Donald Trump.
O’Connor, known online as PlugwalkJoe, began receiving tips about him as early as 2018. Witnesses who heard O’Connor’s voice on various Google voice calls helped law enforcement identify him. A Justice Department spokesman said O’Connor will have a detention hearing in Spain on Thursday.