Joseph O’Connor, 22, was arrested by the Spanish Police. He is suspected of having taken control of important Twitter accounts, such as that of President Joe Biden, or that of former President Barack Obama.
The suspect has been charged in Federal Court for the Northern District of California with three counts of conspiring to intentionally gain unauthorized access to a computer and obtain information from a protected computer, along with six others charges. He is also accused of cyberstalking a minor victim, and of participating in an attempt to take control of TikTok and Snapchat accounts.
According to a long report, Joseph O’Connor – accompanied by at least three other people – would have impersonated an employee of the IT department (direction of information systems) of Twitter in July 2020. He would have called employees of the platform, claiming to be part of the IT team in charge of fixing VPN problems, to “persuade them to enter their credentials on a compromised website, designed to look like the real VPN connection site.”
As a result, the attackers were able to gain access to the back-end of Twitter. This is how they were able to hijack important accounts of personalities, including prominent politicians, to encourage users of the platform to send them bitcoins. “I give back to the community,” the posts said, before providing a link.
Besides Barack Obama and Joe Biden, cyberattackers have also taken control of the accounts of Benjamin Netanyahu, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Michael Bloomberg, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. Twitter suspended all accounts right after sending the fraudulent tweets.
118,000 dollars in bitcoins
The report states that the cyberattackers only recovered $ 118,000 – in bitcoins – and that they were only able to access the messaging of about thirty of the hijacked accounts.
The US Department of Justice worked with the FBI, the Secret Service and the IRS-Criminal Investigation Cyber Unit on this case, as well as with the National Crime Agency, in the United Kingdom.
Graham Ivan Clark, a 17-year-old American from Florida, has pleaded guilty to a series of charges related to the hack. He was sentenced to three years in prison. Besides Joseph O’Connor and Ivan Clark, Mason Sheppard, a British national, is also indicted, as well as Nima Fazeli, who resides in Florida.
Twitter in the face of criticism
For its part, Twitter is also on the dock. Indeed, regulators are concerned about the ease with which four people – two of whom were teenagers at the time – were able to access the accounts of some of the world’s most powerful figures.
“The fact that Twitter has been vulnerable to an unsophisticated attack shows that self-regulation is not the solution,” said Linda Lacewell, representative of New York State, in a statement.