LONDON — A UK man has pleaded guilty to helping orchestrate a high profile stunt on the Twitter accounts of numerous celebrities and politicians, including Elon Musk, Joe Biden, and Kanye West.
Joseph O’Connor, 23, known under an online alias as “PlugwalkJoe,” entered his guilty plea in a New York court on Tuesday, according to a Justice Department. Press release. He was extradited from Spain last month.
O’Connor pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, commit computer intrusions, extortionate and threatening communications, cyberstalking, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering. Combined, the charges carry a maximum sentence of 77 years, the Justice Department said.
Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s criminal division said O’Connor’s activities were “blatant and malicious.”
“He harassed, threatened and extorted his victims, causing them substantial emotional harm,” he said in a statement Tuesday.
“Like many criminal actors, O’Connor tried to remain anonymous by using a computer to hide behind stealthy accounts and aliases from outside the United States. But this statement demonstrates that our investigators and prosecutors will identify, locate, and bring these criminals to justice to ensure they face the consequences of their crimes,” Polite added.
The attack, which took place in 2020, addressed to about 130 people, Twitter said at the time. The hackers took control of the accounts to promote a bitcoin scam, directing users to send the funds to various bitcoin addresses.
Twitter said in 2020, shortly after the hack occurred, that it believes the hack was a “coordinated social engineering attack” against its employees; in other words, members of the company were tricked into giving up access to internal systems and tools.
The attackers were able to gain access to Twitter’s internal controls by compromising a small number of employees, according to a July 2020 Twitter account. blog post.
“O’Connor has communicated with others regarding the purchase of unauthorized access to a variety of Twitter accounts, including accounts associated with public figures from around the world,” the Justice Department said Wednesday.
“Several Twitter accounts targeted by O’Connor were later transferred from their rightful owners. O’Connor agreed to buy unauthorized access to a Twitter account for $10,000.”
‘Impressive trail of destruction’
O’Connor was also charged and found guilty for his role in a SIM swapping attack, which is when an attacker convinces a mobile carrier to transfer a person’s phone number to their device to bypass authentication of multiple factors in online accounts.
The attack targeted several high-profile companies and executives in the cryptocurrency industry, including Binance, Tron founder Justin Sun, and Litecoin founder Charlie Lee, and resulted in the theft of $794,000 worth of digital assets, according to the Department of Justice. O’Connor agreed to assign the $794,000 to the court and pay restitution to the victims of his crimes, the Justice Department said.
O’Connor also compromised the account of “one of the most visible TikTok accounts” and threatened to release sensitive personal material related to the victim of the hack to people who joined a specific server on the Discord chat app, he said. the Department of Justice.
US Attorney Ismail J. Ramsey for the Northern District of California said O’Connor “left an impressive trail of destruction” in the aftermath of his crime spree.
“This case serves as a warning that the reach of the law is extensive, and criminals anywhere who use computers to commit crimes may end up facing the consequences of their actions in places they did not anticipate,” Ramsey said.
O’Connor was one of four people charged in the scheme. In 2021, American teenager Graham Ivan Clark pleaded guilty to fraud charges.
Nima Fazeli of Orlando, Florida, and Mason Sheppard, of Bognor Regis in the United Kingdom, were also charged in connection with the hack.
O’Connor was arrested in July 2021 in Estepona, a tourist town on the Costa del Sol in southern Spain, by the Spanish National Police at the request of the US authorities.
He is scheduled to be sentenced on June 23.