A 22-year-old Briton was arrested in Estepona on Tuesday for his role in a July 2020 Twitter hack which compromised dozens of Twitter accounts including those of Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Bill Gates.
Joseph James O’Connor was detained on an international arrest warrant after being tracked down to the Costa del Sol during an investigation involving the FBI, British police forces and Spain’s Policia Nacional.
Under a criminal complaint filed in a federal court in the Northern District of California, O’Connor is formally charged with cyberstalking, making extortive and threatening communications, and intentionally accessing a computer without authorisation.
The July 2020 Twitter attack hijacked a 130 verified Twitter accounts of high profile people, including then Presidential candidate Joe Biden, former President Barack Obama, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Benjamin Netanyahu, Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg. TV reality star Kim Kardashian and Kayne West were also hit.
Fake tweets were sent from the accounts urging followers to send them Bitcoin payments.
The messages tweeted out from the accounts were along the lines of: “I have decided to help my community. All bitcoins sent to my address below will be doubled.”
The messages were swiftly deleted, but investigators estimate the scam would have allowed the hackers to take in more than $100,000 dollars in cryptocurrency.
O’Connor is facing multiple charges including the criminal complaint of computer intrusions related to takeovers of TikTok and Snapchat accounts.
He is also accused in an incident involving sextortion, as well as cyberstalking a 16-year-old juvenile.
According to the criminal complaint, the hackers compromised accounts of cryptocurrency exchanges including Binance, Gemini and Coinbase, as well as those of companies including Apple and Uber.
One teenager, known in criminal proceedings as ‘Juvenile 1’, has already been jailed over the hack.
Now identified as Graham Ivan Clark, 18, he was arrested within days of the Twitter attack accused of playing a central role under the hacker name Kirk#5270. He is currently serving three years in juvenile jail in Florida.
Authorities allege that Juvenile 1 recruited others with the claim he could “reset, swap and control any Twitter account at will, and would do so in exchange for bitcoin transfers.”
Two of those people whom Juvenile 1 recruited, Nima Fazeli and Mason Sheppard, agreed to serve as middlemen to help find buyers for Twitter usernames in exchange for a fee, according to investigators at the US Justice Department.
Both Fazeli and Sheppard were criminally charged in the case on July 30, 2020 alongside Clark.
O’Connor’s role in the attack came to light after the FBI interviewed another unnamed teenager, referred to in the criminal complaint as Juvenile 2, who identified O’Connor and claimed O’Connor had discussed gaining access to the account of then President Donald Trump.
Criminal investigators in California started receiving tips about O’Connor, who uses the online moniker PlugwalkJoe, as far back as 2018, the complaint says.
O’Connor is expected to have a detention hearing in Spain on Thursday and will likely face extradition to the States.
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