Feds: Twitter Hacker Left 'Impressive Trail of Destruction'

UK man pleads guilty to scheme that targeted accounts of 130-plus names, including Musk, Biden
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 10, 2023 7:44 AM CDT
'PlugwalkJoe' Admits to Twitter Hacks of 130-Plus Big Names
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/Zhanna Danilova)

A UK man arrested in Spain two summers ago and accused of hacking into the Twitter accounts of some big names—including the current owner of the platform himself—has pleaded guilty to the plot, which also involved the theft of a hefty amount of crypto. On Tuesday, the US Justice Department announced that 23-year-old Joseph James O'Connor copped to cyberstalking and computer hacking schemes in a New York court, after being extradited from Spain last month, reports Reuters. The more than 130 notable Twitter accounts that O'Connor is said to have hacked into in July 2020 were those of Elon Musk (before he became Twitter's CEO), then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, Bill Gates, Apple, Uber, and Barack Obama, per the Guardian.

O'Connor, who went by the online handle "PlugwalkJoe," and fellow hackers gained unauthorized access to Twitter's administrative tools, in a scheme the BBC says "showed how fragile Twitter's security was at the time"—they basically just called a few Twitter workers and tricked them into sharing login info. The hackers then used the accounts they hacked into to press followers to send them bitcoin, with promises of doubling their money. O'Connor is also accused of targeting the Snapchat and TikTok accounts of two other public figures in 2019 and 2020; those accounts are believed to have belonged to actor Bella Thorne and social media personality Addison Rae, respectively, per the Verge.

O'Connor was also accused of using a SIM-swap scheme to steal $794,000 worth of crypto from a company in New York City in 2019, and of stalking and threatening a minor in June and July 2020. "O'Connor has left an impressive trail of destruction in the wake of his wave of criminality," US Attorney Ismail J. Ramsey says in a statement. Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite adds, "O'Connor's criminal activities were flagrant and malicious, and his conduct impacted multiple people's lives. He harassed, threatened, and extorted his victims, causing substantial emotional harm."

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In addition to forfeiting the $794,000 and agreeing to pay restitution to his scam victims, the Liverpool native could see up to 77 years behind bars if convicted of the charges against him, which include computer intrusion, extortion, cyberstalking, wire fraud, and money laundering. He's set to be sentenced on June 23. Three others were also charged in the scam, including a Florida teen who pleaded guilty in 2021 and was sentenced to three years in a prison for young adults. (More hack stories.)

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