Joseph O’Connor, a British national, has been sentenced to five years in a U.S. prison for a high-profile cyber attack involving notable Twitter accounts. The hacking scheme, which was part of a larger Bitcoin scam, occurred in July 2020 and compromised over 130 accounts, including those of Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Elon Musk, Apple, Uber, Kanye West, and Bill Gates.
In the scam, tweets were sent from the breached accounts urging followers to transfer Bitcoin to a certain account, with the false promise of doubling their investments. The ruse duped thousands and was viewed by approximately 350 million Twitter users.
O’Connor, also known as PlugwalkJoe, was extradited from Spain to the U.S. in April. He pleaded guilty to hacking charges last month, which could have potentially led to a sentence exceeding 70 years. He is one of four individuals charged in connection with the scam, including American teenager Graham Clark, who pleaded guilty in 2021.
The hackers managed to breach Twitter’s defenses through social engineering, convincing several employees to reveal their login credentials by weaving an elaborate, believable narrative. This deception gave the cybercriminals access to Twitter’s internal control panel.
U.S. Assistant Attorney-General Kenneth Polite Jr. condemned O’Connor’s actions, labeling them as “flagrant and malicious”, stating they had caused significant emotional harm through harassment, threats, and extortion.
The U.S. justice department revealed that O’Connor confessed to other hacking crimes, such as gaining unauthorized access to a popular TikTok account and stalking a minor. In addition to his prison sentence, O’Connor was ordered to pay nearly $800,000 in forfeiture.