Mastermind Behind Twitter 2020 Hack Receives 70-Year Prison Sentence
A British National who pleaded guilty in connection with the Twitter 2020 hack, which compromised several high-profile accounts, including many other users, has been brought to justice.
Joseph James O’Connor, now famously known as PlugwalkJoe by netizens and citizens alike, “was involved in a series of cyber crimes which included various computer hacking schemes, cyber stalking and the infamous hack of Twitter 2020,” according to DOJ (Department of Justice).
The 24-year-old was approved to be extradited to the US by the Spanish National Court after the DOJ (Department Of Justice) requested in February, leaving him facing up to 14 criminal charges worth 70 years in prison here in the States.
On the 15th of July 2020, O’Connor and his fellow co-conspirators carried out a vast mass hack where they gained access to various Twitter administrative tools and began hijacking more than 130 accounts.
These accounts belonged to famous politicians, brands and celebrities like Apple, former president Barak Obama, rap icon Kanye West, Co-founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, and the owner of Twitter, Elon Musk, along with others.
O’Connor and three other men were charged for the hacking incident. Authorities had successfully apprehended Graham Ivan Clark, a US teenager labelled as the mastermind behind this operation, and Nima Fazeli alias Rolex, a resident of Orlando, Florida.
The other individual involved was Mason Sheppard alias Chaewon, a resident of the UK, who together carried out this cybercrime using the mentioned Twitter accounts as a part of a crypto scam which raked the group approximately $120,000 in just a couple of hours.
O’Connor and his fellow co-conspirators used various social engineering techniques available to acquire access to Twitter's administrative tools that are used to maintain their various operations.
After gaining the said unauthorized access, they successfully used the tools to hack into the accounts and participated in crypto schemes with the goal of defrauding other users on Twitter.
In some cases, they even sold the access to other criminals and reported that O’Connor had also purchased unauthorized access to a Twitter account for approximately $10,000.
This incident caused an estimated 360 million Twitter users to view suspicious tweets from some of the most influential names on the platform. As a result, thousands of people were deceived into believing that various crypto giveaway that was taking place was real and, in turn, lost huge amounts of money.
Kenneth A Polite, an assistant attorney general in the criminal division of the US Justice Department, spoke up and said that “the criminal activities done by O’Connor were seriously malicious and fragrant and this has impacted a lot of people’s lives.”
“He has pleaded guilty to harassment, threatening and extorting his victims, which has caused great emotional harm and trauma to the people involved.”
Following the Twitter incident, O’Connor was charged with a case of computer intrusions related to unauthorized takeovers of accounts belonging to two victims who were famous on separate social media apps, TikTok and Snapchat. In addition, the defendant also pled guilty to online stalking and threatening a minor individual.
The 24-year-old and his menacing co-conspirators gained access to these latter victims' accounts using a technique called SIM swapping, which involved impersonating the victim and contacting their telecom service provider to link the victim's phone number to theirs.
Through this attack, the defendant and his group had unauthorized control of the victim’s devices, giving them authorization for their bank accounts and other services like using their famous accounts to spread his messages of fraud.
In addition, to have the victims comply with his demands, O’Connor would threaten the two individuals, stating that he would publicly leak their sensitive materials, such as private images and other personal information.
The defendant also pleaded guilty to targeting a Manhattan-based cryptocurrency company somewhere between March and May 2019, where he successfully stole $794,000 in virtual currency using a SIM swap attack.
According to DOJ, “O’Connor and his co-conspirators managed to pull this off by laundering it through several transactions and transfers and also exchanged a portion of it for Bitcoin using various crypto exchange services.”
After pleading guilty to all his crimes, the defendant Joshua James O’Connor was served a sentence of five years in a US prison and has also been sentenced to three years of supervised release.
The defendant is also ordered to pay the amount of $794,000 in restitution.
The series of attacks on Twitter that day lasted several hours. They caused a massive disturbance, which led to Twitter taking multiple bizarre measures, like banning verified accounts from tweeting.
The incident revealed the vulnerability of accounts belonging to celebrities and well-known organizations and people. However, it increased the awareness of the importance of strict cyber security measures to safeguard ourselves from future attacks.