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Celebrity Hacker Arrested By Homeland Security

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

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Christmas fail. Hacker stole celebrity sex tapes and film scripts, and then tries to sell them to uncover agent

A hacker has been arrested and charged after he stole upcoming film and TV scripts, as well as personal information and sexually explicit videos of celebrities in the entertainment, media and sports fields.

The 23-year-old hacker Alonzo Knowles was publicly named and shamed by the US Department of Justice.

Sex Tapes

BTKnowles is from Freeport in the Bahamas, but he was arrested in New York this week after he tried to sell the hacked information to an undercover agent.

According to the official release, Knowles obtained the information by hacking into the victims’ personal email accounts. He used two different attack vectors. The first involved sending a “virus” to the victim’s computer, which enabled Knowles to access it.

His second point of attack was to email a false notification to his victim, stating their email account had been hacked. He then asked for passcodes. Once he gained access to the email accounts, he secretly changed the settings so he could maintain ongoing access to the accounts.

Knowles apparently contacted a radio host in order to sell his stolen stash, but the radio host contacted Homeland Security instead and a sting operation was organised, with an undercover agent posing as a buyer.

Initial contact was made in video conferencing calls, before an actual face-to-face meeting in New York between the hacker and the undercover agent.

Knowles allegedly tried to sell the agent 15 scripts and the social security numbers of two athletes and a movie actress for $80,000 (£53,754). He also then showed the agent a sex tap, and boasted he could get other sex tapes.

“This case has all of the elements of  the kind of blockbuster script the defendant, Alonzo Knowles, is alleged to have stolen: hacks into celebrities’ private emails, identity theft, and attempts to sell victims’ information to the highest bidder,” said Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara stated. “Unfortunately, these circumstances are all too real.”

“This arrest brings down an alleged email hacking scheme that targeted many individuals including some in the entertainment industry,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Glenn Sorge. “As cyber-crime becomes more pervasive, this operation embodies HSIs commitment to target those who use the cyber world for illegal financial gain.”

Knowles would trawl through celebrities’ emails to look for juicy details to steal, and would also hack the friends of celebrities if the celebrity being targetted was too difficult to hack. Besides upcoming film and TV scripts, he also stole personal information including social security numbers and passport details of celebrities.

Knowles has been charged with one count of criminal copyright infringement and one count of identity theft, both of which carry a maximum prison sentence of five years.

Jennifer LawrenceHollywood Beware

This is not the first time that celebrities have been targeted by hackers.

In 2014, the FBI began an investigation after the publication of naked photos of more than a dozen celebrities. It followed a complaint filed by Hunger Games actress Jennifer Lawrence.

The photos of 17 female celebrities were published on image board 4chan, and include snaps of Coronation Street sex symbol Michelle Keegan, Jennifer Lawrence, Spider-Man star Kirsten Dunst and pop star Ariana Grande.

It was unclear how those images were obtained. However, metadata suggested the majority of the images were taken using Apple devices, leading some to suggest they were taken from iCloud accounts.

Actress Scarlett Johansen and other celebrities were also hacked in 2010, which led to the arrest and jailing of hacker Christopher Chaney.

And this time last year, Hollywood was reeling when North Korea hackers attacked Sony Pictures, which resulted in publication of the personal details of several major Hollywood stars.

This stolen data included the salaries of leading Hollywood actors.

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