The Telegraph . August 1, 2020, 8:15 PM
A British teenager charged with hacking Twitter had his home searched by the National Crime Agency and is likely to face extradition to the US, the Sunday Telegraph can reveal.
Mason Sheppard, a 19-year-old from Bognor Regis, was one of three people charged by the US Department of Justice on Friday night over an alleged cyber scam that saw the accounts of various celebrities hijacked last month.
Sources told the Sunday Telegraph Mr Sheppard, who is said to go by the codename ‘Chaewon’, could face extradition if prosecutors in the US put in a request.
However, he has not been arrested by officers in Britain, who are assisting in their investigation.
Mr Sheppard is in a long line of British people accused of hacking who have been at risk of extradition.
Gary McKinnon, a hacker from Glasgow, who in 2002 was accused of perpetrating the “biggest military computer hack of all time”, and Laurie Love, from Suffolk, who was arrested in 2013 after being accused of stealing data from US agencies including the FBI, the Federal Reserve and Nasa, both avoided being extradited, the latter after a High Court appeal in 2018.
Mr Sheppard has been charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and the intentional access of a protected computer.
Among the accounts hijacked last month included those of former US president Barack Obama, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Amazon owner Jeff Bezos, rapper Kanye West and his wife, Kim Kardashian.
The tweets offered to send $2,000 (£1,500) for every $1,000 (£750) sent to an anonymous Bitcoin address.
One tweet from Bill Gates’ account read: “Everyone is asking me to give back. You send $1,000, I send you back $2,000.”
Another from Kim Kardashian said: “Feeling nice! All BTC sent to me will be sent back doubled, enjoy.”
Marcus Hutchins, the British computer researcher renowned for temporarily stopping the WannaCry ransomware attack, yesterday said it doesn’t take a “super genius” to hack major firms.
He said: “Hacking corporations is a lot less difficult than you think.”
The NCA confirmed on Friday it had supported the US investigation and searched a property in West Sussex with officers from SEROCU, a collaboration between the Police Forces of Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex and Thames which focuses on organised crime in the south east.
It is understood that the UK has not arrested the teenager.
A Government source said there was “always the possibility” the US could put in an extradition request, but would not confirm if one had been made.
However Professor Alan Woodward, a cyber-security expert at Surrey University, said that if he were Mr Sheppard he “would be slightly worried”.
“The Americans will issue a legal assistance warrant,” he said.
“In this case, they did actually not just break in, but they then tried to use it for a criminal scam. They walked away with thousands of pounds. So you know, this, they were not trivial sums of money. I suspect that the British law enforcement agencies will not have a great deal of sympathy with them.”
According to neighbours, Mr Sheppard – who attended a local state comprehensive school – is “a nice lad” whose father, Mark, passed away around five years ago.
They added that his mother, Lorraine, had been bringing him up since her husband died.
A woman in her sixties, who lives in the same road, said: “I know Lorraine and she’s lovely.
“I’ve not seen Mason in years but he was always a very nice lad.
“This is a real shock. No one around here has seen any police activity or anything.”
David Anderson, the US Attorney for the Northern District of California said Mr Sheppard “faces a statutory maximum penalty of 45 years of imprisonment” if convicted.
The three charges were filed against him in the Northern District of California, which is where Twitter is located.
Tweets were simultaneously posted promoting a Bitcoin scam, promising followers they would receive double the amount of money back if they transferred funds to a digital wallet.
According to court documents filed on July 23 and made public on Friday, approximately 415 transfers were made to the Bitcoin address totalling more than 117,000 US dollars – equivalent to approximately £90,000.
Nima Fazeli, 22, of Orlando, Florida, was charged with aiding and abetting the intentional access of a protected computer.
The Department of Justice said charges had also been filed against a juvenile.
Graham Ivan Clark, 17, was arrested in Tampa, Florida, on Friday according to the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office.
It added that Mr Clark will be prosecuted as an adult and is allegedly the “mastermind” behind the hack.
Mr Anderson said: “There is a false belief within the criminal hacker community that attacks like the Twitter hack can be perpetrated anonymously and without consequence.
“Today’s charging announcement demonstrates that the elation of nefarious hacking into a secure environment for fun or profit will be short-lived.
“Criminal conduct over the Internet may feel stealthy to the people who perpetrate it, but there is nothing stealthy about it.
“In particular, I want to say to would-be offenders, break the law, and we will find you.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “As a matter of long-standing policy and practice, we neither confirm nor deny the existence of extradition requests.”