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Florida teen charged as "mastermind" behind massive Twitter hack

Hackers target Twitter in major security breach
Hackers target high-profile Twitter accounts in major security breach 07:19

A Florida teenager has been identified by authorities as the "mastermind" behind the recent Twitter Bitcoin hack that targeted the accounts of Elon Musk, Barack Obama, Bill Gates and many other high-profile celebrities. The 17-year-old was arrested Friday and charged in Tampa, according to the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office. 

Graham Ivan Clark is now facing 30 felony charges, the office said in a statement. That includes 17 counts of communications fraud (over $300), 10 counts of fraudulent use of personal information, and one count each of organized fraud (over $50,000), fraudulent use of personal information (over $100,000 or 30 or more victims) and access computer or electronic device without authority (scheme to defraud). 

"The investigation revealed Graham Ivan Clark, 17, was the mastermind of the recent hack of Twitter," the office said.  

Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren said Clark lives in Tampa and will be prosecuted there. He added that Florida law allows minors to be charged as adults in cases of financial fraud. 

"These crimes were perpetrated using the names of famous people and celebrities, but they're not the primary victims here," Warren said in a news release. "This 'Bit-Con' was designed to steal money from regular Americans from all over the country, including here in Florida. This massive fraud was orchestrated right here in our backyard, and we will not stand for that."

Two other people were charged in connection with the hack, the Department of Justice said. Nineteen-year-old Mason Sheppard, who is from the U.K., was charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and the intentional access of a protected computer, and 22-year-old Nima Fazeli of Orlando was charged with aiding and abetting the intentional access of a protected computer.

"There is a false belief within the criminal hacker community that attacks like the Twitter hack can be perpetrated anonymously and without consequence," said U.S. Attorney David Anderson in the DOJ's statement. "Today's charging announcement demonstrates that the elation of nefarious hacking into a secure environment for fun or profit will be short-lived."

Police arrested 17-year-old Graham Ivan Clark in Tampa, Florida on Friday, July 30, 2021 for his role in Twitter's recent Bitcoin hack. Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office

During the hack, the Twitter accounts of celebrities including Elon Musk, Joe Biden, Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg, Kim Kardashian West and Bill Gates asked millions of followers to send money to a Bitcoin address. The hackers acquired more than $100,000 in Bitcoin from more than 400 transfers the day of the hack, the DOJ said, adding that approximately 130 accounts of politicians, celebrities and musicians were compromised.   

Twitter said attackers were not able to access private information, such as previous account passwords, for the "vast majority of people" targeted in the hack. 

Twitter announced Thursday that the July 15 hack was the result of a phone spear phishing attack that required access to both the site's internal network and employee credentials granting restricted access. The hacker was able to obtain passwords and other sensitive information from employees using illegitimate emails, the company said. 

Following the charges, Twitter said it appreciates the "swift actions of law enforcement in this investigation and will continue to cooperate as the case progresses." The company said it will continue to be transparent and provide updates.  

"Working together, we will hold this defendant accountable," Warren said. "Scamming people out of their hard-earned money is always wrong. Whether you're taking advantage of someone in person or on the internet, trying to steal their cash or their cryptocurrency—it's fraud, it's illegal, and you won't get away with it." 

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