- Three people were charged on Friday in connection to a massive Twitter bitcoin hack in July that compromised dozens of high profile accounts, including those of Kim Kardashian-West, Kanye West, and former President Barack Obama.
- Among those charged was 17-year-old Graham Ivan Clark who reportedly stole nearly $180,000 and is being described as the mastermind behind the attack.
- On Sunday, the Tampa Bay Times reported that Clark has over $3 million in bitcoin, and prosecutors believe that money was also obtained illegally.
- This is not Clark’s first run in with authorities. Last year, they seized cash and $700,000 bitcoin in a criminal investigation, though he was never charged.
17-Year-Old “Mastermind” Arrested
In news that would otherwise appear to come straight from a best-selling young adult heist novel, a 17-year-old Florida teen has been charged as the “mastermind” behind Twitter’s largest hack ever. Reportedly, he’s also worth $3 million in bitcoin.
That hack, which happened on July 15, successfully infiltrated dozens of high-profile accounts including: Kim Kardashian-West, Kanye, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, former President Barack Obama, and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. It also attacked Twitter accounts for companies like Apple and Uber.
All of those accounts then tweeted out some variation of the same message: “I am giving back to my community due to Covid-19! All Bitcoin sent to my address below will be sent back doubled. If you send $1,000, I will send back $2,000! Only doing this for the next 30 minutes! Enjoy.”
On Friday, state authorities arrested 17-year-old Graham Ivan Clark in Tampa, Fl. Though he reportedly lives alone and is a recent high school graduate, Clark is still a minor, which is why he was not arrested by federal officials. He will be tried as an adult.
Clark faces 30 different felonies, including 17 counts of communications fraud and one count of fraudulent use of personal information (over $100,000 or 30 or more victims).
On July 16, the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced it was opening an investigation into the hack. The same day that Clark was arrested and charged, two others were charged by federal agents.
One of those men, 22-year-old Nima Fazeli of Orlando, Fl., has been arrested by federal agents. The other, 19-year-old Mason John Sheppard of the United Kingdom, still hasn’t been arrested but the FBI is expecting him to be taken into custody soon.
How Clark Hacked Twitter
Despite many details around Clark being restricted because he is a minor, a criminal affidavit from Florida has still revealed some of the specifics behind how that attack happened.
According to that affidavit, Clark gained access to a portion of Twitter’s network on May 3. Reportedly, this happened after Clark convinced a Twitter employee that he was also an employee in the technology department. He then told the real employee that he needed their credentials to access the customer service portal.
From there, the affidavit jumps to July 15 and it’s not clear what happened between then, but according to Zdnet, “it appears Clark wasn’t immediately able to pivot from his initial entry point to the Twitter admin tool that he later used to take over accounts.”
In fact, according to The New York Times, he only got access to those credentials after he found a way into Twitter’s internal Slack workspaces and saw them posted there.
Still, that alone was not enough for him to make his way past Twitter’s two-factor authentication. Likely, he maneuvered around that through what Twitter called a “phone spear phishing attack.”
“The attack on July 15, 2020, targeted a small number of employees through a phone spear phishing attack,” Twitter Support said on Thursday. “This attack relied on a significant and concerted attempt to mislead certain employees and exploit human vulnerabilities to gain access to our internal systems.”
The affidavit accuses Discord user Kirk#5270, believed to be Clark, of initiating the attacks.
“I work for Twitter,” Kirk said in a chatroom on July 15. “I can claim any @. Let me know. Don’t tell anyone.”
Soon after, Sheppard and Fazeli joined under separate usernames of their own, and the three reportedly began selling access to Twitter accounts.
However, this attack is different from the one that targeted personalities like Kim K. Instead, this attack focused on stealing short handles like @drug, @xx, @vampire.
By the end of it, Kirk was accused of netting around $33,000 in bitcoin. Sheppard is accused of acquiring around $7,000 in bitcoin. Fazeli is accused of having worked in cooperation with the two in exchange for a Twitter handle he wanted.
From here, the criminal complaints against Sheppard and Fazeli end. Of course, that wasn’t the end of the attack. Later that same day, the main hack against numerous high profiles figures began.
By the end of that, Clark had reportedly stolen around $177,000 from both attacks.
How the 17-Year-Old “Mastermind” Got Caught
If the first part of their plan went off without a hitch, the latter half did not. The alleged criminals reportedly failed to hide their real identities and scrambled to hide their stolen money once the hack went public. Such mistakes led to a quick discovery of their identities by law enforcement.
Clark himself has faced legal trouble before, as well.
According to the Tampa Bay Times on Sunday, he has 300 Bitcoin — making him worth more than $3 million. Prosecutors have argued that most — if not all of that money — was likely illegally obtained, though Clark’s attorney has denied that claim.
Last year, Clark was the subject of a criminal investigation where authorities seized $15,000 in cash and 400 bitcoin. Ultimately, Clark was never charged, prosecutors returned 300 bitcoin to him.
While July’s Twitter hack stirred up significant (and justified) fear over just how easy it was for hackers to target users, as of now, it is unknown if this hack had any more sinister intentions outside of stealing money.
See what others are saying: (Tampa Bay Times) (Zdnet) (WIRED)
Black Mirror or Reality? Microsoft Granted Patent for Tech That Lets It Create Chatbots of Dead People
- Microsoft has been granted a patent that would allow it to create artificial intelligence chatbots of dead people using “voice data, social media posts, electronic messages, written letters, etc.”
- As Microsoft noted in its patent proposal, chatbots could also be created to imitate living people — opening the door for users to train a digital version of themselves to be used after they die.
- In the patent filing, Microsoft also suggested creating 2D or 3D models of chatbot subjects by studying images and videos of them.
- Online, many noted the similarities between Microsoft’s patent and a 2013 episode of Black Mirror in which a woman creates an AI version of her deceased boyfriend.
Microsoft Granted Controversial Patent
The United States Patent and Trademark Office has granted Microsoft a patent for technology that would allow it digitally revive dead people.
If implemented, Microsoft would use information like “voice data, social media posts, electronic messages, written letters, etc.,” to create artificial intelligence chatbots meant to replicate the person.
In its filing, Microsoft noted that the person could be “a friend, a relative, an acquaintance, a celebrity, a fictional character, a historical figure, a random entity, etc.”
Microsoft also noted, “the specific person may also correspond to oneself (e.g., the user creating/training the chat bot), or a version of oneself (e.g., oneself at a particular age or stage of life).”
As The Independent pointed out, that opens up the door for living users to be able to “train a digital replacement in the event of their death.”
But it doesn’t stop there. Microsoft has also suggested creating 2D or even 3D models of the person by studying images and videos of them.
Has Life Finally Become an Episode of Black Mirror?
Online, many noted the similarities between Microsoft’s patent and a 2013 episode of Black Mirror in which a character, played by Hayley Atwell, revives her recently-deceased boyfriend through an AI chatbot. As the episode progresses, that AI — played by Domhnall Gleeson — eventually becomes an exact replica android of her boyfriend.
“More people that need to remember Black Mirror is a warning sign, not a product manual,” said Tama Leaver, an internet studies professor at Curtin University in Australia.
Indeed, many critics have interpreted the episode, which focuses on the grief felt by Atwell’s character because of her loss, as an examination of “our own mortality and our desire to play God.”
“It shines a spotlight on our desperate need to reverse a natural and necessary part of life without considering the consequences on our emotional well-being,” Roxanne Sancto said in a review for Paste Magazine.
In fact, series creator Charlie Brooker said part of his direct inspiration for writing the episode was based on Twitter and the question: “What if these people were dead and it was software emulating their thoughts?”
See what others are saying: (The Independent) (IGN) (Indie Wire)
JoJo Siwa Fans Caution Against Labeling the Star’s Sexuality
- JoJo Siwa was featured in two TikTok videos Wednesday that many felt signaled her as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
- One showed her dancing and lip-syncing to Paramore’s “Aint It Fun,” along with members of the TikTok group Pride House LA. Siwa specifically mouthed the lyric “Now you’re one of us,” which is also the caption of the post.
- The second video showed her lip-syncing to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” a song that has long been heralded as an LGBTQ+ anthem.
- The 17-year-old entertainer has not directly addressed speculations about her sexuality, prompting many to caution against labeling her.
JoJo Siwa TikToks Trigger Sexuality Speculations
JoJo Siwa fans are urging the public not to label the 17-year-old entertainer’s sexuality, especially when she has not explicitly done so herself.
The request came after Siwa became a trending topic Wednesday when many speculated that she had come out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
The speculations stem from two TikTok videos she was featured in. The first was posted on choreographer Kent Boyd’s account. It features him and other members of the TikTok group Pride House LA, which includes several stars from Disney Channel’s “Teen Beach Movie.”
It showed them all lip-syncing and dancing along to Paramore’s hit song “Ain’t It Fun.” Siaw specifically mouthed the lyric “Now you’re one of us.” That lyric was also the caption of the post.
Later in the day, Siwa posted a video on her personal TikTok account that featured her lip-syncing to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” a song that has long been heralded as an LGBTQ+ anthem.
Part of the lyrics she sang along to were: “No matter gay, straight or bi, lesbian transgender life / I’m on the right track baby, I was born to survive.”
These posts really started all the rumors online, and things picked up when influencers like James Charles, Bretman Rock, and others expressed their support.
Many fans also left comments on the videos saying they were proud of her, and journalist Yashar Ali tweeted, “This feels like a big deal if it is what I think it is…JoJo Siwa is hugely popular with kids.”
“And as someone just pointed out, if it is what I think it is, she’s doing it at the height of her fame when she’s selling out arenas,” he continued.
Despite the wave of praise, other fans feel that it’s inappropriate and harmful to make speculations about anyone’s sexuality.
Many have even shared their own experiences coming out, reminding people not to label Siwa as anything until she explicitly chooses to share that information herself.
While Siwa hasn’t directly addressed any of the responses as of yet, she has retweeted a post that features her video, the pride flag emoji, and the caption, “@itsjojosiwa is on the right track, she was born this way.”
Still, others also noted that she has publicly asked Lady Gaga to collaborate with her in the past, so perhaps this is a signal about that happening soon.
Others believe it could also be Siwa’s way of signaling that she is an ally of the LGBTQ+ community.
See what others are saying: (Insider) (Metro) (Teen Vogue)
Google Investigates Top AI Researcher Who Was Looking Into a Previous Firing
- Google is investigating the co-leader of its Ethical AI team, Margaret Mitchell.
- While Mitchell has not been fired, her account has been locked because Google said she “exfiltrated thousands of files” and shared them with people outside of the company.
- In a tweet, Mitchell indicated that she had been “documenting current critical issues” related to the firing of another Google AI Ethicist in December.
- Sources reportedly told Axios that Mitchell had been specifically looking for messages that showed discriminatory treatment of that fired researcher.
Google Investigates Margaret Mitchell
On Tuesday, Google stated that it is now investigating the co-leader of its Ethical Al team, Margaret Mitchell.
Mitchell has reportedly not been fired, but her company email account has been locked.
According to Google, its security systems automatically lock employee accounts “when they detect that the account is at risk of compromise due to credential problems or when an automated rule involving the handling of sensitive data has been triggered.”
In this case, Google said Mitchell “exfiltrated thousands of files” and then shared them with people outside of the company.
Why Did Mitchell Begin Looking Through Files?
Mitchell’s investigation is related to the ousting of another top AI ethicist at Google, Timnit Gebru, who was fired at the beginning of December.
Before Gebru was fired, managers reportedly instructed her to withdraw an unpublished research paper upon her return from vacation. In an email to the internal listserv Google Brain Women and Allies, Gebru then voiced frustration at managers for allegedly making the decision without her input.
“You are not worth having any conversations about this, since you are not someone whose humanity (let alone expertise recognized by journalists, governments, scientists, civic organizations such as the electronic frontiers foundation etc) is acknowledged or valued in this company,” Gebru said in a critique of the decision.
Gebru’s firing led to such a massive outcry from Google employees that Google CEO Sundar Pichai pledged to investigate the situation.
On Friday, Mitchell indicated in a tweet that she was also looking into Gebru’s firing, saying that she was “documenting current critical issues from [Gebru’s] firing, point by point, inside and outside work.”
According to Axios, sources have said that Mitchell used automated scripts to siphon through messages that potentially document discriminatory treatment against Gebru.