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US teen behind Twitter hack that hit accounts of Barack Obama, Elon Musk

News Agencies | Updated on: 6 August 2020, 10:41 IST

The teenager who allegedly hacked the Twitter accounts of former US President Barack Obama, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, among other noted personalities in July had started off by convincing an employee of the microblogging platform that he was a co-worker, according to authorities as per The Wall Street Journal.

The crime committed by 17-year-old Graham Ivan Clark had "an element of hacking combined with social engineering", said Hillsborough County, Florida, State Attorney Andrew Warren.

Apart from this, Clark, who has been charged with compromising over 100 accounts and scamming the account holders as well as hundreds of people who allegedly sent him money, had also seized control of phone number through SIM-swapping, and set up numerous fake phishing pages.

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In March, the microblogging platform had announced work from home facility for all employees, giving the accused an "ideal environment for the kind of attacks in which Clark allegedly specialised," according to security researchers. Once inside Twitter, Clark allegedly gained the ability to bypass the company's security protections, setting the stage for an hours-long hack on July 15 that captivated the world's attention and held hostage the main communications tool of some of the most powerful people on the planet, as per The Wall Street Journal.

Investigators and security experts, as per the article, have said that the tricks used by the accused are those which are increasingly being used by online gamers in today's day and age and have resulted in over tens of millions of dollars in losses and affecting thousands.

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Clark, meanwhile, spent a lot of time online playing video games and had been accused in online forums of "reneging on business deals."

Two others -- 19-year-old Mason Sheppard, of Bignor Regis, United Kingdom and Nima Fazeli (22) of Orlando, Florida have also been charged in connection with the hack. An online forum called OGUsers.com had played a central role in the crime, as it is on this platform that Clark had reached out to brokers claiming "to work for Twitter and said he could help sell control of Twitter accounts to buyers."

Another user of the forum, had then reached out to Sheppard, who after seeing a demonstration agreed to act as a broker, and on July 15 morning, brokered "as many as eight deals between buyers and Kirk (alleged username of Clark on the forum) with some going for as high as USD 10,000."

However, Clark increased the nature of the scam by taking over accounts of high-profile personalities such as Microsoft and Amazon founders. Sheppard and the other broker, after realising the seriousness of the crime, had tried to reach out to reporters to clear their names. Sheppard now faces up to 45 years in federal prison if convicted on fraud and hacking charges.

Fazeli faces up to five years in prison if convicted, according to the criminal complaint. Clark faces 30 felony counts, according to The Wall Street Journal. Earlier, Twitter announced the strengthening of security measures during the investigation of the hacker attack, significantly restricting access to its internal systems.

Among the victims of the hack were former US Vice-President Joe Biden, Former President Barack Obama, Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, billionaires Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg and Warren Buffett, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, rapper Kanye West, many others. The hackers used the account to call on followers to send money to a bitcoin account.


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First published: 6 August 2020, 10:41 IST