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Man charged in nude celebrity hacking case

Operation 'Hackerazzi' uncovers 50 victims

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

A Florida man hacked into the email accounts of actresses Scarlett Johansson and Mila Kunis, and as many as 50 other celebrities and made off with nude photos, movie scripts, and other personal information, federal prosecutors said.

Christopher Chaney, 35, of Jacksonville, Florida, obtained personal information about his victims and used it to breach the email accounts of more than 50 individuals, federal prosecutors alleged in a criminal indictment unsealed on Wednesday. After Chaney accessed the accounts hosted by Apple, Google and Yahoo, he activated their forwarding feature, allowing him to transfer new messages "instantaneously" to a separate account he controlled.

Other celebrities allegedly targeted by Chaney included pop singer Christina Aguilera, actress Renee Olstead, and fashion designer Simone Harouche.

The 26-count indictment comes four weeks after partially nude photos of Johansson appeared online. One of the pictures showed the actress, who starred in films including "Lost in Translation" and "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," reflected in a mirror wearing only a towel. A separate image showed her topless. At a press conference on Wednesday, FBI officials said the leaked pictures were connected to the case involving Chaney.

Prosecutors didn't say exactly how Chaney broke into the email accounts, but the use of victims' personal information has long been a favorite technique to gain access to their sensitive data stored online.

In 2008, the son of a democratic state representative from Tennessee used publicly available information to breach the Yahoo Mail account of then vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, for which he was later jailed. It took David Kernel less than 45 minutes to search the web for Palin's birth date, zip code, and the location she met her spouse. That was all the information he needed to reset the password for Palin's account.

There's no evidence that Chaney worked on behalf of any of the websites that published any of the pictures or other information stolen from the celebrities accounts. That would appear to set the case apart from the cellphone hacking scandal that has rocked Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

The indictment explicitly names Johansson, Kunis, Aguilera, Olstead, and Harouche as victims and references six other victims only by their first and last initials. They are: B.P., J.A., L.B., L.S., D.F., and B.G. Over the past few years, reports have claimed that numerous celebrities have had online accounts compromised. It is unclear of any of those hacks are related to Chaney.

If convicted, Chaney faces a maximum sentence of 121 years in federal prison. He was arrested without incident by FBI agents in Florida. The charges stem from an 11-month investigation dubbed "Operation Hackerazzi." ®

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