A British man has been charged in the United States in connection with a Twitter hack last summer that compromised the accounts of prominent politicians, celebrities and technology moguls, the Justice Department said Wednesday.
Joseph O’Connor, 22, was arrested in the coastal resort town of Estepona, Spain, on an arrest warrant accusing him of involvement in a July 2020 hack of more than 130 accounts, and of hacks that prosecutors said took over user accounts on the TikTok and Snapchat apps. Prosecutors also accuse O’Connor of cyberstalking a juvenile.
A criminal complaint filed in federal court in the Northern District of California charges O’Connor with crimes including cyberstalking, making extortive and threatening communications and intentionally accessing a computer without authorization.
It was not immediately clear if O’Connor had a lawyer, although in prior interviews he has denied wrongdoing.
During the high-profile security breach a year ago, fake tweets were sent from the accounts of Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Mike Bloomberg and a number of tech billionaires including Amazon’s then-CEO Jeff Bezos, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Tesla CEO Elon Musk. The bogus tweets asked followers of the high-profile accounts to send Bitcoin payments.
A Florida teenager was sentenced in March to three years in prison for his role in the hacking operation. Graham Ivan Clark pleaded guilty to multiple fraud charges as part of a deal with Hillsborough County prosecutors.
Andrew Warren, the Florida state attorney who prosecuted Clark, told the AP last year he considered him the mastermind of the plot.
Court papers filed last year said the plot originated in an online forum for people looking to obtain social media usernames that carry some prestige. Such coveted usernames, known as “OG” or “original gangster” accounts, are typically short and might have been acquired when Twitter was in its earliest stages more than a decade ago.
There’s an underground market for stealing and trading the sought-after handles on Twitter and other social media sites such as Instagram or the gaming worlds of Minecraft and Fortnite.
Twitter and other social media companies earlier this year said they were cracking down on accounts affiliated with the trading of OG usernames. The company declined to comment Wednesday on O’Connor’s arrest.