Illinois man to plead guilty in celebrity hacking

LOS ANGELES • An Illinois man accused of breaking into the Apple iCloud and Gmail accounts of celebrities to obtain their private photos and videos has agreed to plead guilty to a felony computer hacking charge, prosecutors said last Friday.

Edward Majerczyk, 28, facing up to five years in prison, is the second man charged in a federal investigation into the leaks of nude photos of several Hollywood actresses, including Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence, in September 2014.

According to a plea agreement signed by Majerczyk, he illegally accessed iCloud and Gmail accounts belonging to more than 300 people, using an e-mail phishing ploy to obtain their usernames and passwords.

He was able to access full iCloud back-ups belonging to numerous victims, including at least 30 celebrities, many of whom reside in Los Angeles, the plea agreement stated.

Under his deal with federal prosecutors, the Chicago resident will formally plead guilty in the United States District Court in Illinois to a felony violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, said the US Attorney's Office in Los Angeles.

A 36-year-old Pennsylvania man, Ryan Collins, pleaded guilty in March to the same offence in a case stemming from the same investigation.

While no victims were named in court documents, the investigation began after Lawrence and other celebrities, including actresses Kirsten Dunst and Gabrielle Union and model Kate Upton, complained in interviews about having their private photos end up disseminated online.

It was not the first time celebrity nude photos obtained through computer intrusions led to a criminal prosecution.

A Florida man was sentenced in 2012 to 10 years in prison for hacking into the e-mail accounts of actresses Scarlett Johansson and Mila Kunis and singer Christina Aguilera to leak private information and explicit photos.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2016, with the headline 'Illinois man to plead guilty in celebrity hacking'. Print Edition | Subscribe