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Twitter hack masterminds charged in the US

Read time 4min 20sec

Three individuals, two of whom are teenagers, were on Friday charged for their alleged roles in the Twitter hack that occurred on 15 July.

The announcement was made by United States Attorney David L Anderson.

Last month, Twitter suffered a social engineering attack targeting top users, such as US presidential candidate Joe Biden, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, former US president Barack Obama, and reality TV star Kim Kardashian.

The attackers also hijacked the accounts of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Uber and Apple, among others, with the hackers demanding to be paid in crypto-currency.

Mason Sheppard, aka “Chaewon” (19), of Bognor Regis, in the UK, was charged in a criminal complaint in the Northern District of California with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and the intentional access of a protected computer.

Nima Fazeli, aka “Rolex” (22), of Orlando, Florida, was charged in a criminal complaint in the Northern District of California with aiding and abetting the intentional access of a protected computer.

The third defendant is a juvenile, says the US justice department. It notes that with exceptions that do not apply to this case, juvenile proceedings in federal court are sealed to protect the identity of the juvenile.

Pursuant to the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act, the Justice Department has referred the individual to the State Attorney for the 13th Judicial District in Tampa, Florida.

“There is a false belief within the criminal hacker community that attacks like the Twitter hack can be perpetrated anonymously and without consequence,” says Anderson for the Northern District of California.

“Today’s [Friday’s] charging announcement demonstrates that the elation of nefarious hacking into a secure environment for fun or profit will be short-lived. Criminal conduct over the Internet may feel stealthy to the people who perpetrate it, but there is nothing stealthy about it. In particular, I want to say to would-be offenders: break the law and we will find you.”

“The hackers allegedly compromised over 100 social media accounts and scammed both the account users and others who sent money based on their fraudulent solicitations,” says acting assistant attorney general Brian C Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

“The rapid investigation of this conduct is a testament to the expertise of our investigators, our commitment to responding quickly to cyber attacks, and the close relationships we have built with law enforcement partners throughout the world.”

“Upon opening an investigation into this attack, our investigators worked quickly to determine who was responsible and to locate those individuals,” says San Francisco FBI special agent in charge John F Bennett.

“While investigations into cyber breaches can sometimes take years, our investigators were able to bring these hackers into custody in a matter of weeks. Regardless of how long it takes us to identify hackers, we will follow the evidence to where it leads us and ultimately hold those responsible for cyber intrusions accountable for their actions. Cyber criminals will not find sanctuary behind their keyboards.”

“Weeks ago, one of the world’s most prolific social media platforms came under attack. Various political leaders, celebrities and influencers were virtually held hostage as their accounts were hacked,” says Kelly R Jackson, IRS-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) special agent in charge of the Washington DC Field Office.

“The public was confused, and everyone wanted answers. We can now start answering those questions thanks to the work of IRS-CI cyber crime experts and our law enforcement partners.”

Jackson says the Washington DC Field Office Cyber Crimes Unit analysed the blockchain and de-anonymised Bitcoin transactions, allowing for the identification of two different hackers.

“This case serves as a great example of how following the money, international collaboration, and public-private partnerships can work to successfully take down a perceived anonymous criminal enterprise. Regardless of the illicit scheme, and whether the proceeds are virtual or tangible, IRS-CI will continue to follow the money and unravel complex financial transactions.”

The justice department says as alleged in the complaints, the Twitter attack consisted of a combination of technical breaches and social engineering.

It says the result of the Twitter hack was the compromise of approximately 130 Twitter accounts pertaining to politicians, celebrities and musicians.

The hackers are alleged to have created a scam Bitcoin account, to have hacked into Twitter VIP accounts, to have sent solicitations from the Twitter VIP accounts with a false promise to double any Bitcoin deposits made to the scam account, and then to have stolen the Bitcoin that victims deposited into the scam account.

As alleged in the complaints, the scam Bitcoin account received more than 400 transfers worth more than $100 000.

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