Celebrity hacking

Man pleads guilty to leaking nude photos

LOS ANGELES • A Pennsylvania man has agreed to plead guilty to a felony computer hacking charge, after the authorities said he illegally accessed private phone and e-mail accounts of celebrities such as Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence, to leak information, including nude pictures.

The United States attorney for the Central District of California charged Ryan Collins, 36, from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, according to court documents filed on Tuesday.

He faces up to five years in federal prison, with a recommended prison term of 18 months and a fine of US$250,000 (S$339,000).

The case has been transferred from California to the Middle District of Pennsylvania, where Collins is expected to surrender and plead guilty. He will be sentenced at a later date.

While no victims were named in the court documents, Lawrence and other celebrities such as actresses Kirsten Dunst and Gabrielle Union and model Kate Upton addressed the leak and online dissemination of their nude photos in interviews.

Prosecutors said in court documents that between November 2012 and September 2014, Collins "knowingly, intentionally, and in furtherance of criminal and tortious acts" accessed at least 50 Apple iCloud accounts and about 72 Google Gmail accounts belonging to more than 100 people.

In what is known as a "phishing" scam, he used fraudulent e-mail disguised to impersonate legitimate security services, such as email.protection318@icloud.com and requested usernames and passwords from the victims, according to prosecutors.

By doing so, he accessed the iCloud accounts, used for online data storage, for 18 celebrities and downloaded the backed-up data that included nude pictures and videos, court documents said.

It is not the first time a suspected hacker has been charged with leaking celebrity nude photos.

A Florida man was sentenced in 2012 to 10 years in prison for hacking into e-mail accounts of Scarlett Johansson, Mila Kunis and Christina Aguilera to leak private information and nude photographs.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 18, 2016, with the headline 'Man pleads guilty to leaking nude photos'. Print Edition | Subscribe