A man accused of targeting the entertainment industry by hacking into the personal e-mail accounts of celebrities was arrested today after being charged with a range of cyber-related crimes, announced Andre Birotte Jr., the United States Attorney in Los Angeles; and Steven Martinez, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI?s Los Angeles Field Office.
Christopher Chaney, 35, of Jacksonville, Florida, was arrested this morning by FBI agents without incident. A federal grand jury in Los Angeles returned a sealed indictment yesterday charging Chaney with violations under Title 18 of the U.S. Criminal Code, including: accessing protected computers without authorization; damaging protected computers without authorization; wiretapping; and aggravated identity theft.
According to the indictment, which was unsealed this morning, Chaney used several aliases while illegally obtaining personal information of numerous celebrities through a series of computer intrusions.
Investigators believe that Chaney used publicly available sources to mine for data about his female and male victims, all of whom are associated with the entertainment industry. Once Chaney gained access and control of an e-mail account, he would obtain private information, such as e-mails and file attachments, according to the indictment. In addition, investigators believe that Chaney was led to new victims by accessing the address books of victims whose computers he already controlled.
Throughout the 11-month investigation, agents identified over 50 victims whose accounts were illegally accessed by Chaney. The 26-count indictment details specific instances in which Chaney violated 11 of the victims, some of whom are identified by initials only. The victims are identified in the indictment as: Simone Harouche, Mila Kunis, Christina Aguilera, Scarlett Johansson, Renee Olstead, B.P., J.A., L.B., L.S., D.F., and B.G.
The indictment specifically charges Chaney with illegally accessing the computers, e-mail accounts and account settings of several victims, beginning November 13, 2010, through February 10, 2011. The indictment further alleges that Chaney knowingly caused the transmission of programs, information codes and commands, resulting in damage to e-mail servers, causing losses of at least $5,000 per instance. Chaney also used the identities of some of the victims to illegally access and control computers, according to the indictment. In other instances, Chaney allegedly intercepted and endeavored to intercept wire communications; specifically, e-mails and attachments.
In most cases, Chaney accessed the administrative settings on the victims' accounts so that all of their e-mails would automatically be forwarded to a separate e-mail account Chaney controlled. This form of wiretapping allowed Chaney to continually receive victims? e-mails even after a password had been reset.
Investigators determined that Chaney distributed some of the files he obtained illegally, including photos of celebrities, and offered them to various celebrity blog sites. Some of the illegally obtained files, including private photographs, were ultimately posted online as a result of Chaney's alleged activities.
Chaney will have an initial appearance in United States District Court in Jacksonville, Florida. It is anticipated that the government will request that Chaney be removed to Los Angeles, the district in which he was charged, to face prosecution.
If convicted on all counts, Chaney faces a statutory maximum penalty of 121 years in federal prison. This investigation was conducted by the FBI. The charges against Chaney will be prosecuted by the United States Attorney's Office.