US police in the state of Florida have arrested a 17-year-old boy accused of being the mastermind behind a hack of multiple celebrity Twitter accounts which scammed people worldwide out of around $US100,000 ($138,980).
A prosecutor identified the teenager as Graham Clark from the city of Tampa, charging him as an adult with 30 felony charges
“He’s a 17-year-old kid who just graduated from high school,” said Florida State Attorney Andrew Warren in Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa.
Mason Sheppard, 19, from Bogner Regis in Britain, who used the alias Chaewon, was also charged with wire fraud and money laundering while Orlando-based Nima Fazeli, 22, nicknamed Rolex, was accused of aiding and abetting the crimes, according to a Justice Department statement.
Twitter said it appreciated the “swift actions of law enforcement”.
In one of the most high-profile security breaches in recent years, hackers sent out bogus tweets on July 15 from the accounts of Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Mike Bloomberg and a number of tech billionaires including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
Celebrities Kanye West and his wife, Kim Kardashian West, were also hacked.
The tweets offered to send $2,000 for every $1,000 sent to an anonymous Bitcoin address.
“There is a false belief within the criminal hacker community that attacks like the Twitter hack can be perpetrated anonymously and without consequence,” US Attorney David L Anderson for the Northern District of California said in a news release.
“Today’s charging announcement demonstrates that the elation of nefarious hacking into a secure environment for fun or profit will be short-lived.”
Security experts were not surprised that the alleged mastermind of the hack is a 17-year-old, given the relative amateur nature both of the operation and the hackers’ willingness afterwards to discuss the hack with reporters online.
“I think this is a great case study showing how technology democratises the ability to commit serious criminal acts,” said Jake Williams, founder of the cybersecurity firm Rendition Infosec.