LOS ANGELES -- After hacking into the email accounts of Christina Aguilera, Mila Kunis and Scarlett Johansson to procure naked images of them, a Florida man pleaded guilty in court Monday to nine felony cyber crimes and was immediately taken into custody.
Christopher Chaney, 35, of Jacksonville, pleaded guilty in Los Angeles federal court to nine counts of computer hacking and wiretapping for the unauthorized access of email accounts belonging to 50 people in the entertainment industry.
U.S. District Court Judge S. James Otero ordered Chaney taken into custody following the hearing.
Once Chaney got photos of the celebrities and other information, he forwarded them to another hacker and two celebrity websites that made them public, according to a plea agreement.
During the hearing, Chaney admitted that from at least November 2010 to October 2011, he hacked into the email accounts of Johansson, Kunis and others by taking their email addresses, clicking on the "Forgot your password?" feature and then resetting the passwords by correctly answering their security questions using publicly available information he found by searching the Internet.
Prosecutors said that once Chaney gained exclusive control of the victims' email accounts, he was able to access all of their email boxes. While in the accounts, Chaney also went through their contact lists to find email addresses of potential new hacking targets, according to prosecutor Lisa Feldman.
Most victims did not check their account settings, so even after they regained control of their email accounts, Chaney's alias address remained in their settings, the plea agreement said. So for many victims, copies of their incoming emails, including attachments, were sent to Chaney for weeks or months without their knowledge, allowing him to receive thousands of emails, according to the plea agreement.
Chaney obtained numerous private communications, private photographs and confidential documents from the victims' email accounts, according to the indictment. The confidential documents included business contracts, scripts, letters, driver's license information and Social Security information, the indictment said.
On several occasions, after hacking into victims' accounts, Chaney sent emails from the hacked accounts to friends of the victims, fraudulently posing as the victims to request more private photographs, according to the indictment.
"Today's guilty pleas shine a bright light on the dark underworld of computer hacking," said U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr., whose office prosecuted the case. "This case demonstrates that everyone, even public figures, should take precautions to shield their personal information from the hackers that inhabit that dark underworld."
Chaney faces a maximum sentence of 60 years in federal prison.
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