Ryan Collins pleads guilty to pilfering nude photos of celebrities from their Apple iCloud and Gmail accounts
A man is to plead guilty over the famous “Celebgate” hack that resulted in naked photos of hollywood stars such stars like Jennifer Lawrence, Christina Hendricks and Anna Kendrick being posted online.
Ryan Collins, 36, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, used a phishing scam to obtain the Apple iCloud usernames and passwords of the celebrities back in September 2014.
The hacker also stole photos of Coronation Street sex symbol Michelle Keegan, Spider-Man star Kirsten Dunst and pop star Ariana Grande. The photos were posted on image board 4chan.
It was unclear at the time how the images, also including a variety of semi nude and clothed-but-revealing shots, were obtained. Apple refused to comment and there was speculation at the time that its iCloud service had been hacked. We now know that Collins used a phishing scam to obtain the celebrities passwords.
According to the US attorney for the Central District of California, Collins illegally gained entry to more than 100 Apple and Google accounts.
“Ryan Collins, 36, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, has signed a plea agreement and agreed to plead guilty to a felony violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act,” said the court documents. “In the plea agreement also filed today, Collins agreed to plead guilty to one count of unauthorised access to a protected computer to obtain information.”
“Today, people store important private information in their online accounts and in their digital devices,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “Lawless unauthorised access to such private information is a criminal offence. My Office remains committed to protecting sensitive and personal information from the malicious actions of sophisticated hackers and cyber criminals.”
Collins faces a statutory sentence of between 18 months and five years in federal prison.
He conducted his creepy campaign from November 2012 to September 2014. Collins used phishing techniques to pose as Apple or Google staff, and he would ask victims to provide their usernames and passwords. He then had unfettered access to their email accounts, and also apparently used a software program to download the entire contents of the victims’ Apple iCloud backups.
“By illegally accessing intimate details of his victims’ personal lives, Mr. Collins violated their privacy and left many to contend with lasting emotional distress, embarrassment and feelings of insecurity,” said David Bowdich, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.
“We continue to see both celebrities and victims from all walks of life suffer the consequences of this crime and strongly encourage users of Internet-connected devices to strengthen passwords and to be sceptical when replying to emails asking for personal information,” said Bowdich.
An FBI investigation into the hack continues, although it is noted that investigators have not so far uncovered any evidence linking Collins to the actual leaks of the nude photos, or that Collins shared or uploaded the information he obtained.
Despite this case, cyberattacks against celebrities are continuing.
In December the US Department of Justice named and shamed a hacker 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.
23-year-old hacker Alonzo Knowles from Freeport in the Bahamas was arrested in New York in December after he tried to sell the hacked information to an undercover agent.
Actress Scarlett Johansen and other celebrities were also hacked in 2010, which led to the arrest and jailing of hacker Christopher Chaney.
Hollywood was also hit hard in December 2014 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.
How much do you know about the world’s most infamous hackers? Take our quiz!