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Hacker thrown behind bars after stealing nude celebrity photos

The "Celebgate" hacker conducted phishing campaigns to steal account credentials belonging to celebrities.
charlie-osborne
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer on
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CNET

A hacker that used social engineering to steal nude images of celebrities has been sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Ryan Collins of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, attended court in the Middle District of Pennsylvania for sentencing after pleading guilty to federal charges relating to "Celebgate," the theft and release of sensitive information including nude photos belonging to celebrities such as Jennifer Lawrence, Aubrey Plaza, and Rihanna.

According to US prosecutors, Collins "engaged in a sophisticated phishing scheme" between 2012 and 2014 which utilized social engineering techniques including phishing emails to dupe over 100 targets into handing over account credentials after posing as an employee of Google or Apple.

These credentials were then used to pilfer accounts for information and digital content. At least 50 iCloud accounts and 72 Gmail accounts belonging to female celebrities were among those illegally accessed.

In some cases, Collins would use programs to download the entire catalog of information and photos belonging to Apple iCloud backups.

In addition, the cyberattacker also ran a modelling scam in which he managed to dupe some of his victims into sending him nude photographs.

The 36-year-old was sentenced to 18 months in prison after admitting to federal violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, of which Collins pleaded guilty to one count of unauthorized access to a protected computer to obtain information in May this year.

After admitting his guilt, Collins originally faced up to five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.

The prosecutors did note, however, that the investigation did not uncover any direct evidence which linked Collins to the release of stolen data and photographs, "or that Collins shared or uploaded the information he obtained."

In other words, law enforcement has been able to track down those responsible for the theft -- but not the release.

"The defendant intruded into the online accounts of hundreds of victims and in doing so, intruded upon their lives, causing lasting distress," said Deirdre Fike, the assistant director in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles Field Office. "The prison sentence received by Mr. Collins is proof that hacking into the accounts of others and stealing private information or images is a crime with serious consequences."

Earlier this month, US prosecutors charged 28-year-old Edward Majerczyk in connection to Celebgate. Law enforcement said that Majerczyk pleaded guilty for also running phishing schemes to access at least 300 accounts fraudulently, of which roughly 30 belonged to celebrities.

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