- Joseph O’Connor, known as ‘PlugwalkJoe’, has been sentenced to five years in prison for a $794K crypto theft through a SIM swap attack in 2019.
- O’Connor’s sentence also encompasses offences related to the prominent Twitter hack in 2020.
‘PlugwalkJoe’, the online alias of British hacker Joseph O’Connor, will now be pacing the corridors of a U.S. prison for five years, owing to his orchestration of a SIM swap attack that looted $794,000 worth of cryptocurrency from a crypto exchange executive in 2019.
O’Connor’s transgressions saw him arrested in Spain in July 2021, followed by extradition to the U.S. in April 2023. He subsequently pled guilty in May to multiple charges that included conspiracy to commit computer intrusions, wire fraud, and money laundering, among others, as detailed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York in a June 23 statement.
Besides the prison term, O’Connor is bound to a three-year supervised release period and must forfeit a sum of $794,012.64. The identity of the hacked executive remains confidential. Still, it is understood that following the SIM swap, O’Connor accessed accounts and computing systems associated with the exchange where the executive was employed.
Post theft, the cryptocurrency was cunningly laundered through a maze of transfers and transactions, some of which were exchanged for Bitcoin via cryptocurrency exchange services. A portion of the stolen cryptocurrency was deposited into a cryptocurrency exchange account under O’Connor’s control, according to the statement.
The sentence also encompasses offences linked to the infamous Twitter hack in July 2020, which netted O’Connor and his associates approximately $120,000 in ill-gotten crypto assets. The hackers employed a combination of ‘social engineering techniques’ and SIM-swapping attacks to seize around 130 notable Twitter accounts, along with two significant accounts on TikTok and Snapchat.
O’Connor further engaged in blackmail, threats, and even orchestrated ‘swatting attacks’ on victims, underlining the diverse and harmful impacts of his actions.
SIM swap attacks remain a prevalent threat in the crypto sector, despite O’Connor’s activities dating back three years. The technique enables malicious actors to commandeer a victim’s phone number by linking it to a SIM card they control, providing access to accounts that use SMS-based two-factor authentication. Consequently, they can induce followers of compromised accounts to click on phishing links that surreptitiously snatch their crypto assets. Recent reports suggest that this type of cybercrime is far from eradicated.