The FBI Cracks Down on ‘Celebgate’ Hackers
In a significant development, the FBI announced on Wednesday that it has successfully apprehended one of the internet hackers involved in a notorious cybercrime known as “Celebgate.” These hackers employed deceptive tactics to gain unauthorized access to the email accounts of celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence, with the intention of stealing and leaking their personal nude photos and videos.
While this marks a positive outcome for the victimized stars, the unfortunate reality is that numerous cyber criminals still roam free, including those responsible for the 2014 “Celebgate” scandal, which involved the unauthorized release of nude photos of celebrities on the internet.
According to an FBI press release, Ryan Collins, a 36-year-old resident of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, has agreed to sign a plea agreement, admitting guilt to a felony violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Specifically, Collins has been charged with “unauthorized access to a protected computer to obtain information.”
Essentially, Collins was identified and charged in connection with the ongoing investigation into the hacking of approximately 100 celebrities’ accounts, resulting in the unauthorized release of their private nude photos and videos. Media outlets and investigators coined the term “Celebgate” to describe this scandal.
Notably, the FBI press release announcing the plea agreement did not mention the names of the affected celebrities, which included prominent figures such as Kim Kardashian, Kate Upton, Kirsten Dunst, Vanessa Hudgens, Rihanna, Kate Bosworth, Hayden Panettiere, and Lake Bell.
More Hurdles Remain: The Investigation Continues
While the guilty plea by Ryan Collins brings some closure, the investigation into the Celebgate scandal is far from over. Numerous intimate photos of the affected celebrities, some of which were even denounced as fakes, found their way onto various internet platforms notorious for hosting hackers and their illicitly obtained content. The FBI, however, states that they have not found any evidence linking Collins to the sharing or uploading of the stolen information.
U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker emphasized the criminal nature of this lawless intrusion into private information and expressed her commitment to protecting sensitive and personal data from the malicious actions of sophisticated hackers and cyber criminals.
Collins’s Role: Sneaky and Creepy
Although Ryan Collins did not directly post the stolen photos online, his involvement in the Celebgate scandal was both devious and unsettling, as described in his plea agreement, according to the FBI. From November 2014 to early September 2014, Collins engaged in a “phishing scheme” to gain unauthorized access to his victims’ accounts. He accomplished this by sending deceptive emails, seemingly from Apple or Google, soliciting usernames and passwords.
Upon receiving the victims’ compliance (FBI Tip #1: Never comply with such requests), Collins exploited his illicit access to steal “personal information, including nude photographs and videos,” from their accounts. On some occasions, Collins utilized software programs to download the complete contents of his victims’ Apple iCloud backups.
In total, Collins managed to access at least 50 iCloud accounts and 72 Gmail accounts, with the majority belonging to female celebrities, according to the FBI.
Facing the Consequences: Potential Sentencing
Ryan Collins now faces a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison, although the plea agreement recommends a reduced sentence of 18 months. It is important to notethat this recommendation is not binding on the sentencing judge.
David Bowdich, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles office, highlighted the gravity of Collins’s actions, stating that by illegally accessing intimate details of his victims’ personal lives, he violated their privacy and subjected them to lasting emotional distress, embarrassment, and insecurity. Bowdich emphasized the ongoing consequences of this crime, affecting both celebrities and individuals from all walks of life. He urged users of internet-connected devices to strengthen their passwords and exercise skepticism when responding to emails requesting personal information.
At the time of this rewrite, there has been no immediate response from Jennifer Lawrence regarding the news.
The pursuit of justice in the “Celebgate” scandal continues, as law enforcement agencies work diligently to hold cyber criminals accountable for their malicious actions. The case serves as a reminder of the importance of safeguarding personal information and the ongoing need for robust cybersecurity measures in an increasingly digital world.