The young hacker, accused of being the mastermind behind a high-profile Twitter account violation last year, pleaded guilty in a Florida court on Tuesday and agreed to serve three years in juvenile prison.
Eighteen-year-old Graham Ivan Clark was charged with fraud after compromising the Twitter accounts of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, former President Barack Obama and other celebrities. Under the control of Mr. Clark, the accounts tweeted fraudulent messages requesting Bitcoin and promising to double the money of everyone who sent cryptocurrency. The program brought in more than $ 100,000 worth of bitcoin before it closed.
Mr. Clark’s plea concludes one of the strangest and most alarming episodes in Twitter history. In an election year that had already put the company at the center of American politics, the breach raised questions about Twitter’s corporate security and sparked speculation that government-sponsored hackers, not teenagers, might be responsible.
Mr. Clark’s arrest also raised questions about how someone so young can step into the defense of a supposedly sophisticated tech company. The attack took control of Twitter’s internal systems that are used to manage accounts, forcing Twitter to temporarily block verified accounts from being tweeted while the company sought to get the hackers out of its systems.
Subsequently, security experts said Twitter was lucky that its security weaknesses were exposed by a group involved in a moneymaking, rather than government agents, to steal credentials or gain access to private conversation.
Twitter declined to comment on Mr. Clark’s plea.
Recognition…Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office via Reuters
Mr. Clark grew up in Tampa and found ways to outsmart players on the Minecraft video game as a child, people who knew him at the time told the New York Times. He sold and traded rare social media usernames on the OGUsers forum, where he connected with fellow hackers who said they participated in the Twitter breach.
The hackers, led by Mr Clark according to prosecutors, first used their access to Twitter’s internal systems to take over accounts with unusual usernames like @dark and @vague, which they sold to OGUsers for thousands of dollars. But as the day of the attack passed, the hackers changed their tactics. Celebrity accounts and cryptocurrency companies tweeted messages promising to double the money of everyone who sent bitcoin.
But the offer was a scam. “Bitcoin currency was not returned as promised to these victims,” Darrell Dirks, a prosecutor with the Florida prosecutor, said during a trial on Tuesday.
Two other young men, Nima Fazeli and Mason Sheppard, were also arrested and charged with the hack. The cases of Mr Sheppard and Mr Fazeli are ongoing.
Mr. Clark, who appeared in court via videoconference on Tuesday, pleaded guilty to the 30 charges brought against him. In an agreement with prosecutors, Mr. Clark agreed to three years of juvenile prison followed by three years of probation. He also agreed not to use computers without permission or supervision from law enforcement agencies. If he violates the terms of the treaty, he faces 10 years in adult prison.
Because Mr. Clark is classified as a juvenile offender under Florida law that gives young people milder sentences, he may be able to serve part of his sentence in a boot camp. Prosecutors said he had handed over the cryptocurrency he owned at the time of his arrest, and it will be used to pay compensation to the victims of the hack. He is credited with 229 days of time since he was arrested last year.
“He took over famous people’s accounts, but the money he stole came from ordinary, hard-working people. Graham Clark must be held accountable for this crime and other potential fraudsters must see the consequences, “Hillsborough District Attorney Andrew Warren said in a statement. “In this case, we were able to draw these conclusions while also realizing that our goal for every child, whenever possible, is for them to learn their lesson without ruining their future.”
David Weisbrod, an attorney for Mr. Clark, declined to comment on the plea.