A British citizen was arrested this Wednesday in Estepona, Spain, by the National Police, in response to an arrest request from the United States to face charges related to the hacking of more than 100 Twitter accounts, some belonging to politicians, celebrities or companies, in July 2020.
The operation, dubbed “Portland”, was carried out by the Central Cybercrime Unit in collaboration with the FBI. The investigation began in Spain in April 2020, when the United States alerted the National Police that the young man (who was already being investigated for other crimes) could be in Spanish territory.
Among the profiles he allegedly hacked were those of technology giant Apple, transportation company Uber, artist Kanye West, entrepreneurs Elon Musk and Bill Gates, and Democratic politicians Joe Biden and Barack Obama.
The 22-year-old, identified as Joseph O’Connor, is charged with computer intrusions related to user account takeovers of social media sites such as Twitter, TikTok and Snapchat, as well as cyberstalking a juvenile victim, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
“In addition to the July 15, 2020, hack of Twitter, O’Connor is charged with computer intrusions related to takeovers of TikTok and Snapchat user accounts. O’Connor is also charged with cyberstalking a juvenile victim” the DOJ statement reads.
Specifically, the charges against the detainee are: five of conspiracy to intentionally access a computer without authorization and obtain information; one of conspiracy to extort a person; one of making extortionate communications; one of making threatening communications; and two of cyberstalking.
However, despite the fact that O’Connor has been charged with about 10 felonies, none of them are racketeering.
What happened to the Twitter accounts in 2020
The Twitter accounts of Apple, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Kanye West were hacked on July 15, 2020. These displayed a message prompting users to send bitcoins with the false promise of receiving double afterward.
Those tweets, which have since been deleted, were disseminated on the accounts of high-profile figures inviting to send in 30 minutes $1,000 in bitcoins to then receive that doubled sum.
“It is a SCAM. Do NOT participate,” warned on Twitter Cameron Winklevoss co-founder of the cryptocurrency platform with the same name.
By then, the social network’s managers wrote on the @TwitterSupport account: “We are aware of a security incident impacting accounts on Twitter. We are investigating and taking steps to fix it. We will update everyone shortly. You may be unable to Tweet or reset your password while we review and address this incident.”
O’Connor must first face Spanish courts while it is decided whether he will be extradited to the United States.