UK national arrested in Spain after DOJ indictment for Twitter hack

Joseph O'Connor is accused of taking over the Twitter accounts of Barack Obama, Joe Biden and 128 others in July 2020.
Written by Jonathan Greig, Contributor

The Justice Department announced that 22-year-old Joseph O'Connor has been arrested by Spanish National Police in Estepona, Spain after he was indicted for allegedly hacking into Twitter and taking over prominent accounts like those owned by President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama. 

O'Connor was charged in the US District Court for the Northern District of California with three counts of conspiracy to intentionally access a computer without authorization and obtaining information from a protected computer, along with six other counts. 

O'Connor is also facing charges for cyberstalking a juvenile victim and for his involvement in an effort to take over TikTok and Snapchat user accounts.

According to a lengthy report released by the New York State Department of Financial Services in October, O'Connor and at least three others pretended to work for Twitter's Information Technology department in July 2020. The hackers called employees purporting to be part of the IT team addressing VPN issues "and then persuaded employees to enter their credentials into a website designed to look identical to the real VPN login website."

From there, the hackers gained access to Twitter's backend and used prominent accounts of politicians and celebrities to trick people into sending them Bitcoin. 

"I am giving back to the community," the messages said before providing a link. 

In addition to Obama and Biden, the hackers also took over the accounts of Benjamin Netanyahu, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Michael Bloomberg, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. 

Twitter shut down all of the accounts once the scam tweets were sent out.

The hackers only ended up stealing about $118,000 worth of Bitcoin and were only able to access the direct messages of about 30 of the accounts they stole, according to the report

The DOJ said it worked with the FBI, Secret Service and IRS-Criminal Investigation Cyber Unit on the case as well as the The UK's National Crime Agency.

Graham Ivan Clark, a Florida 17-year-old, pleaded guilty to a raft of charges related to the hack and was given a three-year prison sentence.

In addition to O'Connor and Clark, UK national Mason Sheppard is also facing charges along with Florida resident Nima Fazeli. 

Twitter has faced significant backlash from regulators concerned about how easy it was for four people -- two of whom were teenagers at the time -- to gain access to the accounts of some of the world's most powerful people. 

"The fact that Twitter was vulnerable to an unsophisticated attack shows that self-regulation is not the answer," New York state official Linda Lacewell in a statement. 

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