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Man who targeted public figures in a hacking scheme sentenced in SF | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #hacker

A man from the United Kingdom was sentenced in San Francisco to five years in prison on Friday for his involvement in a large-scale cyber scheme.

Joseph James O’Connor, 24, pleaded guilty in May to multiple hacking and cyberstalking incidents, some affecting high-profile Twitter accounts, CBS News Bay Area reported.

In a California case, O’Connor pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, two counts of committing computer intrusions, making extortive communications, two counts of stalking, and making threatening communications, the U.S Department of Justice said. In a New York case, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit computer intrusions, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. O’Connor also agreed to pay nearly $795,000 in fines.

O’Connor, who was extradited from Spain on April 26, participated in a hacking scheme in July 2020 in which he and several accomplices used social engineering to access Twitter’s administrative tools and transfer access of certain accounts to other “unauthorized users,” DOJ said.

In O’Connor’s California court case, he was linked to a hacking scheme in which he and associates took control of the Twitter accounts and used the accounts to swindle money from other Twitter users, DOJ said. O’Connor and his associates also purchased access to various Twitter accounts, some of which corresponded to public figures around the world, the Justice Department said.

The DOJ said in one instance, O’Connor purchased “unauthorized access” to a Twitter account for $10,000.

A month later, O’Connor accessed one of the most “highly visible” accounts on TikTok in August 2020, whom the DOJ identified as Victim-1, a public figure with millions of followers. 

O’Connor and his associates accessed the account by using a SIM swap technique and used the account to post “self-promotional messages,” where his voice was identified in a video. O’Connor posted on the TikTok account saying he was going to release personal information about Victim-1 to people who joined a Discord server, the DOJ said. 

The DOJ said O’Connor targeted another high-profile person’s Snapchat account in June 2019, identified as Victim-2, using a SIM swap. O’Connor obtained private images and information, which he threatened to release unless Victim-2 posted messages regarding O’Connor’s online persona, the DOJ said. 

The DOJ identified a last person, Victim-3, a minor whom O’Connor stalked and threatened in June and July 2020. He performed a “swatting attack” on the minor, meaning he made a fake emergency call to a public authority in order to cause law enforcement to respond and put Victim-3 and others in danger. 

In one instance, O’Connor called a local police department on June 25, 2020, and said Victim-3 was making shooting threats and provided police with the address where he believed the person lived, the DOJ said. 

O’Connor made multiple calls that day to the same department, representing himself as Victim-3 or a resident at the address he believed to be Victim-3’s home, the DOJ said. During those calls, O’Connor said he was planning to kill multiple people at that same address and made several calls to a high school, restaurant and sheriff’s department. 

O’Connor also called several of the person’s family members a month later and threatened to kill them, the DOJ said. 

In his New York case, the Justice Department said that between March 2019 and May 2019, O’Connor and his accomplices used a SIM swap to steal $794,000 of cryptocurrency from a Manhattan cryptocurrency company. The company that the DOJ identified as Company-1 provided wallet infrastructure related to international cryptocurrency exchanges.  

O’Connor and his team targeted at least three of the company’s executives and eventually gained access to multiple company accounts and computer systems around April 30, 2019, the DOJ said. This allowed O’Connor’s team to steal the company’s cryptocurrency, which they used in a money laundering scheme.


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