The New York Times tells the story of the 17-year-old “mastermind” arrested Friday for the takeover of dozens of high-profile Twitter accounts.
They report that Graham Ivan Clark “had a difficult family life” and “poured his energy into video games and cryptocurrency” after his parents divorced when he was 7, and he grew up in Tampa, Florida with his mother, “a Russian immigrant who holds certifications to work as a facialist and as a real estate broker.”
By the age of 10, he was playing the video game Minecraft, in part to escape what he told friends was an unhappy home life. In Minecraft, he became known as an adept scammer with an explosive temper who cheated people out of their money, several friends said…. In late 2016 and early 2017, other Minecraft players produced videos on YouTube describing how they had lost money or faced online attacks after brushes with Mr. Clark’s alias “Open….”
Mr. Clark’s interests soon expanded to the video game Fortnite and the lucrative world of cryptocurrencies. He joined an online forum for hackers, known as OGUsers, and used the screen name Graham$… Mr. Clark described himself on OGUsers as a “full time crypto trader dropout” and said he was “focused on just making money all around for everyone.” Graham$ was later banned from the community, according to posts uncovered by the online forensics firm Echosec, after the moderators said he failed to pay Bitcoin to another user who had already sent him money to complete a transaction.
Still, Mr. Clark had already harnessed OGUsers to find his way into a hacker community known for taking over people’s phone numbers to access all of the online accounts attached to the numbers, an attack known as SIM swapping. The main goal was to drain victims’ cryptocurrency accounts. In 2019, hackers remotely seized control of the phone of Gregg Bennett, a tech investor in the Seattle area. Within a few minutes, they had secured Mr. Bennett’s online accounts, including his Amazon and email accounts, as well as 164 Bitcoins that were worth $856,000 at the time and would be worth $1.8 million today… In April, the Secret Service seized 100 Bitcoins from Mr. Clark, according to government forfeiture documents… Mr. Bennett said in an interview that a Secret Service agent told him that the person with the stolen Bitcoins was not arrested because he was a minor… By then, Mr. Clark was living in his own apartment in a Tampa condo complex…
[L]ess than two weeks after the Secret Service seizure, prosecutors said Mr. Clark began working to get inside Twitter. According to a government affidavit, Mr. Clark convinced a “Twitter employee that he was a co-worker in the IT department and had the employee provide credentials to access the customer service portal.”
The plan was to sell access to the breached Twitter accounts, but Clark apparently began cheating his customers again, the Times reports — “reminiscent of what Mr. Clark had done earlier on Minecraft…”
“Mr. Clark, who prosecutors said worked with at least two others to hack Twitter but was the leader, is being charged as an adult with 30 felonies.”