Following a year-long investigation--codename "Operation Hackerazzi"--the Federal Bureau of Investigation indicted the suspected celebrity email hacker Wednesday afternoon on 26 counts of identity theft, unauthorized access to a computer and wiretapping. The suspect, Chris Chaney, is believed to be responsible for breaking into the email accounts of as many as 50 celebrities and leaking information about their private lives, including some nude photos of Scarlett Johansson. Mila Kunis, Christina Aguilera, Simone Harouche and Renee Olmstead were also listed along with others identified only by their initials in the court filings, which also lists the email providers of the victims and dates of the hacks. (ScarJo uses Yahoo! mail.) Chaney faces up to 121 years in jail for the charges.
The case files are as interesting for details about celebrities' email preferences as they are for a peek into Chaney's process. While he's certainly not terrible with computers, the 35-year-old Jacksonville, Florida resident is not your typical whiz kid hacker. Based on what the FBI said at a Wednesday afternoon press conference, Chaney's hacking techniques are no different than those of a jealous ex-boyfriend trying to do some snooping. The Los Angeles Times reports:
Mining details of the stars' personal lives in celebrity magazine and websites as well as Twitter and Facebook posts, Chaney looked for potential passwords that would give him access to their accounts, the FBI said. Once he cracked the password, officials charged, he hit a gold mine, gaining access to the stars' address books as well as any photos and other files saved in their email accounts. He used an email forwarding program that automatically sent a duplicate of any messages the stars received to his own account. So, even when the celebrities changed their passwords, he would know about it, officials said.
The Feds say that Chaney's case will help them catch other celebrity hackers and noted that they didn't believe he had any accomplices or planned to sell the photos. They also made a useful flowchart to help visualize Chaney's process and included some helpful tips on how to avoid getting hacked:
Online, Chaney identified himself using the handles "jaxjaguars911," "anonygrrl," and "trainreqsuckswhat"--trainreq being the name of the notorious hacker who takes credit for stealing lewd pictures of Miley Cyrus. Now that his real name is out in public, though, Chaney is gaining a following. A "Free Christopher Chaney" Facebook group appeared within an hour of the FBI's press conference about the case. So far, only 67 people support the cause.
Update: CNN spoke to Chaney on Wedneday night. Believe it or not, he's glad he got caught--he'd become addicted to hacking. "It just happened and snowballed," Chaney told the network. "I didnt know how to stop doing it myself."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.