Two North Carolina men were arrested for allegedly hacking into the computer systems of several senior government officials, according to an affidavit released by a Virginia district court on Thursday.
Andrew Otto Boggs, 22, who went by the Twitter username "INCURSIO," and Justin Gray Liverman, 24, who went by the moniker, "D3F4ULT," are accused of conspiring with a hacking collective calling itself "CRACKAS WITH ATTITUDE" (CWA) to breach the officials' accounts and publish their personal information online.
Earlier this year, CWA was credited with attacks targeting CIA director John Brennan, FBI Deputy Director Mark Giuliano and the Miami Police.
The hackers used a technique known as "social engineering" to target members of the U.S. government and their families, communicating many of their plans to each other via direct messages on Twitter. Members of CWA utilized several different handles, including @GENUINELYSPOOKY, @CRACKA, and @PORNG0D.
On July 15, 2015, CRACKA, using the name PORNG0D, sent a a message to GENUINELYSPOOKY, which was controlled by Andrew Boggs at the time.
CRACKA, who has been identified as a 17-year-old living in the United Kingdom, told Boggs that he had obtained the social security number of a senior U.S. government official and had also hacked into the official's comcast email account.
"I don't regret it, f--k the government," @CRACKA said. Boggs then asked if CRACKA would want to join "TeamInncuous."
"We'll only be hitting governments and security firms," Boggs said. "I'm waiting on our logo to be finished before we commence attacks on governments."
Three months later, they spoke on Twitter again.
According to officials, Boggs sent a direct message that said, "I'm going to help you with owning the (U.S. government agency affiliated with one of the victims)".
CRACKA replied: "I...own this loser. I have just released emails of them admitting to torture."
CRACKA was arrested by British authorities in February. At least two other members of the hacking conspiracy believed to be located in the U.K. are also being investigated, according to the criminal complaint.
A central technique the hackers used was to impersonate their victims by calling their service providers and requesting that their passwords be changed. The victims would then be locked out of their own account.
Records obtained from Verizon in October include multiple calls by CRACKA impersonating the first victim, who is not identified in the affidavit, and a Verizon employee to gain access to the victim's ISP account.
Cybersecurity expert David Kennedy, CEO of cybersecurity firm TrustedSec, told NBC News that these types of social engineering attacks continue to rip through even the most sophisticated security systems.
"What was unique about these individuals is that they had what most hackers don't have - the ability to communicate socially with other individuals," Kennedy said.
"The attackers used social engineering to directly call up Verizon, impersonate employees, and ultimately hack key U.S. officials with ease," he said.
Kennedy said this is a growing trend where hackers don't necessarily use sophisticated attacks, but "take advantage of our weakness as humans — the ability to help one another."
The hackers are accused of releasing personally identifying information of their victims online throughout the end of 2015 and into 2016. They are also accused of defacing their victims' social media accounts and harassing them over the phone.
"The attacks they used are highly successful and require just the ability to pick up the phone and understand how humans interact," Kennedy said. "We'll continue to see more high profile attacks like this against high government officials, celebrities, and organizations."