Authorities have charged three men in a major Twitter breach this month that hacked the accounts of prominent politicians, celebrities and technology moguls to scam people around the globe out of more than $100,000 in bitcoin.
The suspects include a 19-year-old British man from Bognor Regis, a 22-year-old man from Orlando, Florida, and a teenager from Tampa, Florida.
The 17-year-old boy was arrested Friday in Tampa, authorities said, where the Hillsborough state attorney’s office will prosecute the case. He faces 30 felony charges, according to a news release.
Two others were arrested on Friday on charges relating to the hack. Another accomplice, 22-year-old Nima Fazeli, was charged with aiding and abetting the intentional access of a protected computer.Advertisement
A third suspect, a 19-year-old named Mason Sheppard who went by the moniker “Chaewon” online, was arrested in the United Kingdom and charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and the intentional access of a protected computer.
On 15 July, hackers took control of the accounts of major public figures and corporations, including Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Apple.
The compromised accounts, which have tens of millions of followers, sent a series of tweets proposing a classic bitcoin scam: followers were told that if they transferred cryptocurrency to a specific bitcoin wallet, they would receive double the money in return.
The hack unfolded over the course of several hours, and in the course of halting it, Twitter stopped all verified accounts from tweeting at all – an unprecedented measure.
Although the case against the Florida teen was also investigated by the FBI and the US Department of Justice, the Hillsborough state attorney, Andrew Warren, explained that his office is prosecuting the 17-year-old in state court because Florida law allows minors to be charged as adults in financial fraud cases such as this when appropriate. He added that the teen was the leader of the hacking scam.
Security experts were not surprised that the alleged mastermind of the hack is a 17-year-old, given the relative amateur nature both of the operation and the hackers’ willingness afterward to discuss the hack with reporters online. “I’m not terribly surprised that at least one of the suspects is a minor. There wasn’t a ton of development that went into this attack,” said Jake Williams, the founder of the cybersecurity firm Rendition Infosec.
Williams also said the hackers were “extremely sloppy” in how they moved the bitcoin around.
Internal Revenue Service investigators were able to identify two of the hackers by analyzing bitcoin transactions, including ones the hackers attempted to keep anonymous, federal prosecutors said.
Twitter said on Thursday the hackers used a phone “spear-phishing” attack to target Twitter employees. After stealing employee credentials and getting into Twitter’s systems, the hackers were able to target other employees who had access to account support tools, the company said.
Spear-phishing is a more targeted version of phishing, an impersonation scam that uses email or other electronic communications to deceive recipients into handing over sensitive information.
“This attack relied on a significant and concerted attempt to mislead certain employees and exploit human vulnerabilities to gain access to our internal systems,” the company tweeted.
The hackers targeted 130 accounts and managed to tweet from 45 accounts, access the direct message inboxes of 36, and download the Twitter data from seven. The Dutch anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders has said his inbox was among those accessed.