Washington, 1 August 2020 (dpa/MIA) – US authorities have arrested a 17-year-old in Florida, accusing him of being the “mastermind” of the massive hack of prominent Twitter accounts and a scam which netted him more than 100,000 dollars within hours.
“This was not an ordinary 17-year-old,” Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren said at a press conference from Florida on Friday, where the suspect was arrested. It was a “highly sophisticated attack.”
Warren said the 17-year-old primary suspect faces 30 felony charges, including organized fraud, identity theft and hacking. In Florida, he can be charged as an adult for some financial crimes.
Prosecutors at the Department of Justice also announced two additional people, aged 19 and 22, were charged in the hack.
The younger one, who lives in Britain, was accused of conspiracy charges, while the second was alleged to have aided and abetted the hacking.
The hack targeted influential figures such as former president Barack Obama, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Tesla founder Elon Musk, Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden, and Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, posting a message for a Bitcoin scam.
Warren warned that the type of hack could have disrupted global financial markets, US politics or international diplomacy.
The crimes allegedly took place between May 3 and July 16, with the hack itself having taken place on July 15. Twitter was forced to shut down key parts of the website for several hours.
“If you think you can rip people off online and get away with it, you will be in for a rude awakening,” Warren said, before he proceeded to knock on his table, sounding out a “6 am knock on your door from federal agents.” The main suspect’s apartment was indeed raided.
Twitter on Thursday said that employees were targeted in a phone spear-phishing attack, enabling the hack of 130 accounts. The company said the hacker tweeted from 45, accessed the direct messages of 36, and was able to download Twitter data from seven.
“We appreciate the swift actions of law enforcement in this investigation and will continue to cooperate as the case progresses,” Twitter said after prosecutors announced they had a suspect in custody.