A 23-year-old British man has pleaded guilty to hacking into more than 100 Twitter accounts, including those of Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Kim Kardashian and Elon Musk, in one of the biggest hacks in social media history.
Joseph James O’Connor, also known as PlugwalkJoe, pleaded guilty in New York on Tuesday to his role in the July 2020 hacking, in addition to cyberstalking and multiple other schemes.
O’Connor was extradited from Spain on April 26 to face charges which carry a total maximum sentence of more than 70 years in prison.
According to the US Department of Justice, O’Connor was charged alongside fellow Briton Mason Sheppard of Bognor Regis, West Sussex, and two Americans, Graham Ivan Clark and Nima Fazeli.
Sheppard, who US authorities previously said is also known as Chaewon, was 19-years-old when the crimes took place in July 2020.
He was charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and the intentional access of a protected computer.
On Tuesday, assistant attorney general Kenneth A Polite Jr of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division described O’Connor’s criminal activities as “flagrant and malicious” and said his conduct “impacted multiple people’s lives”.
The attorney added: “He harassed, threatened, and extorted his victims, causing substantial emotional harm.
“Like many criminal actors, O’Connor tried to stay anonymous by using a computer to hide behind stealth accounts and aliases from outside the United States.
“But this (guilty) plea shows that our investigators and prosecutors will identify, locate, and bring to justice such criminals to ensure they face the consequences for their crimes.”
The US justice department said O’Connor had participated in the exploitation of social media accounts, as well as online extortion and cyberstalking.
The hackers used social engineering tricks to get access to the Twitter accounts and send out tweets asking followers to send bitcoin to an account, promising to double their money.
The 23-year-old also pleaded guilty to other hacking crimes including gaining access to a high-profile TikTok account.
The US justice department said he had also used technology to stalk a minor.
O’Connor will be sentenced on June 23.
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