A 35-year-old man was arrested Wednesday on charges that he broke into the email accounts of numerous Hollywood celebrities and stole private photographs and correspondence.
Christopher Chaney, of Jacksonville, Florida, is accused of breaking into more than 50 online accounts over the past year, including those of Scarlett Johansson, Christina Aguilera and Mila Kunis, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation said.
“Chaney distributed some of the files he obtained illegally, including photos of celebrities, and offered them to various celebrity blog sites,” the FBI said.
Nude photos of Johansson, apparently taken with her smartphone, surfaced online last month, as did private photos of Kunis and Justin Timberlake.
Chaney allegedly dug up personal information about the celebrities on the Internet and used it to break into their Yahoo, Apple and Google email accounts. Prosecutors didn’t say how he did this, but in the past, hackers have broken into accounts by finding the answers to password-reset questions. David Kernell accessed Sarah Palin’s Yahoo Mail account using this technique, for example.
Chaney allegedly found new victims by scanning the address books of his targets, and by setting up their accounts to auto-forward emails to his own address. That meant that even after the stars had reset their passwords, he was still able to read their mail, the FBI said.
He used online aliases including trainreqsuckswhat, anonygrrl and jaxjaguars911, according to court filings.
Chaney could not be reached for comment, and his lawyer did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
If convicted of all 26 charges against him, Chaney faces 121 years in prison. He is expected to be tried in Los Angeles.
“Just because you’re an actor or make films or whatever doesn’t mean you’re not entitled to your own personal privacy,” Johansson told CNN last month. “If that is sieged in some way, it feels unjust. It feels wrong.”
Robert McMillan covers computer security and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Robert on Twitter at @bobmcmillan. Robert’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org