Christopher Chaney, 36, stole nude photos, info from celebrities' e-mail
Federal judge sends "hackerazzi" defendant to prison for wiretapping guilty pleas
"It just happened and snowballed," Chaney says of his celeb e-mail hacking
Guard your passwords and information, a prosecutor warns
A Florida man who said he became addicted to spying on celebrities must spend the next 10 years in a federal prison for hacking their e-mail.
Christopher Chaney, 36, stole nude photos, scripts and personal information from the e-mail accounts of 50 entertainment industry figures, including movie stars Scarlett Johansson and Mila Kunis and singer Christina Aguilera, prosecutors said.
The FBI’s Los Angeles office busted Chaney last year during its “Operation Hackerazzi,” which looked into computer intrusions targeting individuals associated with the entertainment industry.
During a hearing Monday in Los Angeles, U.S. District Court Judge S. James Otero sentenced Chaney to 120 months – 10 years – in prison and ordered him to pay $66,179 in restitution. Chaney pleaded guilty earlier this year to wiretapping charges and has been in custody since March. Without a plea deal, he could have faced 121 years in prison if convicted on all 26 charges, the U.S. attorney said.
“Mr. Chaney is responsible for causing dozens of illegally obtained, private photographs to be posted on the Internet, where they were available for all to see,” said U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. “This case is a sobering reminder that cybercrime poses a very real threat to every American, and everyone should take steps to safeguard their identities and personal information on the Internet.”
Chaney, who is from Jacksonville, Florida, apologized when he was arrested in October 2011.
“What I’m most sorry about is that I had to drag my mom into all of this, and my family and my neighbors, and they just want to live their lives,” Chaney told reporters.
Chaney told a reporter that he had become “addicted” to the intrusion and “didn’t know how to stop.”
“I know what I did was probably one of the worst invasions of privacy someone could experience,” he told CNN affiliate WAWS/WTEV in Jacksonville. “And these people don’t have privacy to begin with. And I was in that little sliver of privacy they do have.”
A nude photo of Johansson that was circulated online last year was part of the investigation, Birotte said.
Chaney allegedly “also took financial information, movie scripts and conversations that the celebrities believed to be private,” Birotte told reporters.
Chaney said the hacking “started as curiosity and it turned into just being, you know, addicted to seeing the behind-the-scenes of what’s going on with these people you see on the big screen every day.”
“It just happened and snowballed,” he said, adding that he wishes it had never begun.
Chaney said he felt “almost relieved months ago” when authorities seized his computer because “I didn’t know how to stop doing it myself. I wasn’t attempting to break into e-mails and get stuff to sell or purposely put it on the Internet. It just – I don’t know.”
Authorities allege that Chaney distributed the photos he obtained illegally and offered them to celebrity blog sites. Some of the files, including private photographs, were posted online “as a result of Chaney’s alleged activities,” authorities said in a statement.
Chaney admitted when he entered his guilty plea that he hacked e-mail accounts by clicking on the “forgot your password?” feature to reset passwords. His research of celebrities’ personal information helped him to correctly answer their security questions.
“Once Chaney gained exclusive control of the victims’ e-mail accounts, he was able to access all of their e-mail boxes,” the U.S. attorney’s office said. “While in the accounts, Chaney also went through their contact lists to find addresses of potential new hacking targets.”
While inside the accounts, he changed the settings to forward a copy of each e-mail to his own inbox, the prosecutor said. “Most of the victims did not check their account settings, so even after they regained control of their e-mail accounts, Chaney’s e-mail address remained in their account settings.”