The career as a computer hacker of the British Joseph James O’Connor, aka PlugwalkJoe, 24, has landed him in prison. O’Connor and his accomplices posed as Barack Obama, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett, Kanye West or Kim Kardashian, seizing their Twitter accounts to try to raise money through deception. They also hacked into the TikTok and Snapchat accounts of celebrities and the Twitter accounts of companies including Apple and Uber in one of the most notorious hacks. He was arrested in Estepona (Málaga) in July 2021 by the National Police. Almost two years later, he has been sentenced to five years in prison by a New York court, as reported by the attorney for the Southern District of New York.
O’Connor was extradited by Spain on April 26 and since then his case has been resolved by fast track. On May 9, he pleaded guilty to numerous cybercrimes and this Friday the sentence was made public. O’Connor has been convicted of two sets of charges.
On the one hand, for conspiracy to commit computer hacking and other charges related to a fraudulent scheme perpetrated with other accomplices to use a cyber intrusion technique known as a SIM swapping attack to steal cryptocurrency, then valued at approximately $794,000, from a cryptocurrency company Manhattan-based cryptocurrencies and then to launder the proceeds of those crimes
Separately, a set of charges in connection with O’Connor’s role in the July 2020 Twitter hack, computer intrusions related to the takeovers of TikTok and Snapchat user accounts, and cyberstalking of two victims separated. One of the victims was blackmailed after taking private images. He harassed and threatened the other, a minor, and even made false emergency calls in order to provoke a response from law enforcement that could endanger the victim or others, a practice known as swatting. This second group of charges began to be prosecuted in California and then transferred to New York, where they grouped together.
Finally, for the first set of charges, O’Connor has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. And, in relation to the second set, the Briton has admitted conspiracy to commit computer intrusions, two counts of committing computer intrusions, making extortive communications, two counts of harassment, and making threatening communications.
In addition to the five-year prison sentence, O’Connor has been sentenced to three years of probation. The sentence, apparently the result of an agreement, is relatively benevolent if one takes into account that some of the crimes for which he has been sentenced have sentences of up to 20 years in prison. The aggregate maximum sentence for all crimes added up to a potential maximum of 70 years. By pleading guilty, the convicted man also agreed to forfeit $794,012.64 and compensate the victims of his crimes, and that is also included in the sentence.
“O’Connor’s criminal activities were flagrant and malicious, and his conduct affected the lives of many people. He harassed, threatened, and extorted his victims, causing them significant emotional damage,” Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division said in a statement last May, when the defendant pleaded guilty. “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 guilty plea demonstrates that our investigators and prosecutors will identify, locate, and bring these types of criminals to justice to ensure they face the consequences of their crimes,” he added.
“O’Connor has left an impressive trail of destruction in the wake of his crime wave,” said US Attorney Ismail J. Ramsey for the Northern District of California. “This case serves as a warning that the reach of the law is long, and criminals anywhere who use computers to commit crimes may end up facing the consequences of their actions in places they did not anticipate.”
The Spanish police operation, called Portland, was carried out by the Central Cybercrime Unit in collaboration with the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The investigation began in Spain in April 2020, when the United States notified the National Police that the young man, who was already being investigated for other crimes, could be in Spanish territory. The investigations were directing the investigators to the Costa del Sol, where he was.
The hacking of Twitter accounts, more than a hundred, took place on the night of July 15, 2020 and was carried out with other accomplices. Messages with the scam attempts reached more than 350 million people, allowing criminals to make off with $117,000 in just a few hours with messages encouraging followers to send bitcoins to an account. They promised that everyone who did so would be returned double the amount entered. It is a well-known attack, which has its own page on Wikipedia.
The social network itself released a message confirming the attack: “We are aware of a security incident that affects Twitter accounts. We are investigating and taking steps to fix it. We will inform everyone shortly.” tweeted the social networkwho was following up on the incident.
“We have detected what we believe to be a coordinated social engineering attack by individuals who gained some of our employees access to internal systems and tools,” explained the next day. and added in another tweet: “We know they have used this access to take control of many highly visible accounts (including verified ones) and tweet on their behalf. We are investigating what other malicious activities they may have carried out or what information they may have accessed.”
Two weeks after the attack, on July 31, 2020, the US Department of Justice announced the arrest and indictment of three people in connection with the scam. A 19-year-old from the United Kingdom was charged with multiple counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and willful access to a protected computer, and a 22-year-old from Florida was charged with aiding and abetting international access. . A third individual, Graham Ivan Clark, a juvenile from Hillsborough County, Florida, was also charged. He accepted a plea deal in March 2021 and was sentenced to three years in prison followed by three years of probation.
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