A British man has been arrested in Spain on suspicion of hacking into the Twitter accounts of around 130 celebrities last summer.
Joseph O’Connor was arrested in the Spanish coastal town of Estepona on an international arrest warrant, US Department of Justice said on Wednesday.
He has been charged in the United States for his alleged involvement in a massive Twitter hack that led to the accounts of a number of prominent US politicians, celebrities and tech moguls being hacked in July 2020.
Prosecutors also charged O’Connor with hacking accounts on the social media apps TikTok and Snapchat, and “cyberstalking a juvenile.”
A criminal complaint has been filed in federal court in the Northern District of California. O’Connor is formally charged with cyberstalking, making extortionate and threatening communications, and knowingly accessing a computer without permission.
O’Connor, known by the online alias PlugWalkJoe, has denied any wrongdoing in police interviews.
During the high-profile security breach, fake tweets were sent from a number of high-profile social media accounts, urging followers to send them Bitcoin payments.
Some accounts tweeted “I’ve decided to help my community. All bitcoins sent to my address below will be doubled.”
Among other things, the cyberattack targeted then-US presidential candidate Joe Biden, as well as former President Barack Obama, and another candidate, Mike Bloomberg.
Former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, and Tesla CEO Elon Musk also saw their accounts hacked.
The messages were quickly deleted, but investigators estimate that the scam would have allowed the hackers to receive more than $100,000 in cryptocurrency.
Twitter said hackers targeted a handful of employees via a phone phishing operation to break into the platform’s two-factor authentication system.
In September, the social network announced that it had strengthened the security of celebrity accounts.
In March, a Florida teen pleaded guilty to masterminding the operation and was sentenced to three years in prison. Court papers filed last year said the plot originated in an online forum of people looking to get authentic and valuable social media usernames.
There is an underground market to steal and trade on coveted handles on Twitter and other social media sites like Instagram, or the gaming worlds of Minecraft and Fortnite. Earlier this year, Twitter said it was cracking down on accounts linked to the trading of such usernames.