September 26, 2022

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Department of Justice Indicts UK’s ‘PlugWalkJoe’ For Role In Crypto Scandal

The US Department of Justice has indicted a UK national for his role in a...

The US Department of Justice has indicted a UK national for his role in a SIM swap attack to steal $784,000 worth of crypto from an exchange. On Wednesday, November 3, 2021, the US DoJ announced the indictment for Joseph O’Connor aka ‘PlugWalkJoe.’

The Accusation

The indictment states that O’Connor and his co-conspirators conducted a SIM swap attack that they used to gain control of their victim’s phone number. By doing so, they obtained unauthorized access to their victim’s account, which was secured using SMS 2FA.

The DoJ stated that these attacks were conducted between March and May 2019. Their goal was to steal around $784,000 worth of crypto for a crypto company based in Manhattan. At the time, the company provided wallet infrastructure and related software to crypto exchanges globally.

During the scheme, O’Connor and his accomplices targeted three company executives. They managed to gain access to multiple accounts and computer systems at the company. Around May 1, 2019, they transferred crypto from the company’s wallets. The stolen coins included 770.784869 BCH, 6,363.490509 LTC, 407.396074 ETH, and 7.456728 BTC.

The DoJ states that O’Connor and accomplices then moved the crypto through dozens of exchanges to launder the funds. Some of the cryptocurrencies eventually ended up in a crypto exchange account controlled by O’Connor. If successfully prosecuted, O’Connor could be facing up to 20 years in federal prison.

A History Of Cyber Crime

According to a July 21, 2021 announcement, the suspect, Joseph O’Connor, aka ‘PlugWalkJoe’ was arrested in Estepona, Spain. His arrest by the Spanish National Police was executed after they received a request from US authorities. This was after the US DoJ issued a warrant for his arrest on May 14, 2021.

Besides the SIM swapping scandal, O’Connor is wanted in connection with the July 2020 hack of Twitter accounts. At the time, over 130 Twitter accounts of celebrities, politicians, and companies were hacked.  

The hackers then posted a link to a website that asked people to send BTC to an address. In return, they would receive twice the amount of BTC they sent. While the Twitter attack did not last long, the hackers did manage to steal quite a substantial amount of crypto.

What Is A SIM Swap Attack?

A SIM swap attack is a process where someone’s phone number is transferred to a handset controlled by the hacker. Before the victim realizes what is happening, the attackers can use this short window to divert phone calls and texts to their handset. By doing so, they can gain access to accounts secured using two-factor authentication (2FA).

To avoid such an attack, one of the best solutions available is to use the Google 2FA app. However, one must ensure that they do not lose physical access to the mobile device where their 2FA app is located. To protect oneself from having crypto stolen, the most secure option is to use an offline cold wallet. That places crypto out of the reach of cybercriminals.

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