A British man has pleaded guilty to having taken part in one of the most high-profile social media hacks that included the hijacking of the Twitter accounts of key US political and corporate leaders back in 2020.
As a result of hacking into the social network, 23-year-old Joseph James O’Connor impersonated Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos, Barack Obama, and Joe Biden in order to promote a Bitcoin scheme.
High Profile Social Media Hacker Pleads Guilty
O’Connor, alias “PlugwalkJoe”, entered his guilty plea in a New York court after he was extradited from Spain on April 26. He had been arrested in July 2021 at the FBI’s request following a series of interviews he held with the media concerning the hack.
According to the prosecutor, the Briton was charged with among other crimes, hacking Twitter accounts, stealing cryptocurrency, and SIM card swapping which entails transferring a phone number to a new device in order to get around security safeguards.
The US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Damian Williams, said that “O’Connor used his sophisticated technological abilities for malicious purposes, conducting a complex SIM swap attack to steal large amounts of cryptocurrency, hacking Twitter, conducting computer intrusions to take over social media accounts, and even cyberstalking two victims, including a minor.”
The Department of Justice said that O’Connor and his accomplices used the Twitter accounts to promote a crypto scheme to deceive the public. Following the posts in July 2020 that asked people to pay $1,000 in Bitcoin to receive double back, Twitter had to temporarily suspend some of the celebrities accounts.
Twitter reported that out of the 130 accounts which were targeted including accounts belonging to Kanye West, Bill Gates, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Apple, and Uber only 45 were used to send tweets.
The social media company further confirmed that O’Connor used social engineering attack where instead of finding loopholes in the software, he convinced a Twitter employee to provide administrative access to the accounts.
Considering how simple this method is considered, many were surprised by the attacker’s level of success in executing such a high-profile hack.
In another incident, O’Connor used a SIM swap to gain access to the victim’s Snapchat account and share the victim’s images with his accomplices. In August 2020, he carried out a similar attack, employing SIM swapping once more to seize control of a well-known TikTok account and threatening to publish the victim’s personal details on the Discord chat platform.
Additionally, O’Connor and his co-conspirators used the same technique on the executives of a Manhattan-based crypto company from which they stole $794,012.64 in cryptocurrency. The prosecutor however stated that the amount must be given back to the victims.
Potentially 77 Years In Prison
O’Connor, according to his charge sheet, admitted to several cybercrimes, including the July 2020 hack of Twitter, online extortion, money laundering, wire fraud, and cyberstalking.
He also admitted to “swatting” a juvenile in June and July 2020, which involved calling the police and feigning victimhood by saying they were going to kill many people. In response, every on-duty officer in the area was sent to the victim’s home.
O’Connor wrote similar letters to a high school, a restaurant, and a sheriff’s office as well and he repeatedly threatened to kill the victim’s family over the course of the following month.
“O’Connor’s guilty plea today is a testament to the importance of law enforcement cooperation, and I thank our law enforcement partners for helping to bring to justice to those who victimize others through cyberattacks,” Attorney Williams said.
For all these crimes, O’Connor will be sentenced on June 23 and he faces as much as 77 years in jail.
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