Florida Cybercriminal Receives 10 Year Sentence for Hacking into Celebrities’ Email Accounts
Facing a 121 year prison term, Christopher Chaney, thirty-six (36) of Jacksonville, Florida was sentenced to ten (10) years in prison after being found guilty of illegally accessing email accounts. Along with receiving the surprised prison term, Judge Otero of the US District Court Los Angeles also fined Chaney to pay restitution for his crimes in the amount of $66,000.00.
Although Chaney had been in custody since last March, in November of 2011, he was arrested and plead guilty to approximately nine (9) felony counts that encompassed wiretapping and unauthorized use of more than fifty (50) online computer accounts. The victims of Chaney’s cybercrimes included many well renowned Hollywood celebrities such as, Christina Aguilera, Scarlett Johansson, Mila Kunis and Renee Olstead. Chaney hacked into these accounts unlawfully retrieving confidential documents, personal pictures and private emails. Once Chaney gained access to the celebrities’ information, he would forward personal pictures to several gossip columnists, magazines and post many of the nude pictures online. Remarkably, although Chaney received a tough punishment, we are not aware of any penalties to the gossip websites that willingly went public with any of this pilfered data.
Chaney’s prosecutors asked for a prison sentence of six (6) years, however, after Chaney was arrested and charged with his cybercrimes, he continued his mischievous behavior dismissing any foreseen penalty or punishment knowing that he was the subject of the ongoing FBI investigation AKA – ‘Operation Hackerazzi’. Due to his lack of respect for the law and unwitting self-absorption, Chaney was sentenced to more than the prosecutors originally agreed upon.
Chaney was able to hack into the online accounts of Gmail, Apple, and Yahoo (among others) by using the “forgot password” feature / option. Because so many of us post personal information online available for public view, Chaney knew most of the forgotten password answers and was able to hack into email accounts, not only to retrieve data, but also to re-route the email into one of his established email accounts. He would select the ‘forward a copy of incoming mail’ option and receive a copy of the victims email. This feature could continue to be utilized even if the user ID and / or password were changed by the actual user or owner of the account.
According to the FBI, Chaney would use the online accounts to ask for additional information and photos to be forwarded when applicable. Among his illegally confiscated accounts, Chaney had in his possession – text messages, letters, scripts, business contracts, social security numbers and drivers license information.
Is email hacking really that common?
- During the presidential election of 2012, a cybercriminal admitted to gaining access using the same methodology (as Chaney) to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s email account
- Governor of Alaska, Sara Palin (retired), had her email account compromised in 2008 by a Tennessee university student named David Kernell. Kernell also used the reset password option by answering several of Palins security questions. Just like Chaney, Kernell took the information that he had retrieved from Palins account and posted the data online. Palins accounts were hacked during the 2008 presidential election which she was the vice president nominee of then Senator John McCain. Kernall was convicted and received a year prison sentence.
- In 2011, Ben Grubb, an Australian journalist posted private photographs from Facebook that was originally retrieved from a security researcher. The security researcher obtained the photos (which were supposedly ‘protected’) as the researcher was to have a conference concerning potential security breaches within the Facebook security system. Although later released, Grubb was arrested by Queensland, Australia police.
If you suspect a password or any other change on your computer, especially after a malware attack / virus, or if you think your computer may have been compromised, make sure that you change all of your:
- Firewall settings
- Remote access information
- Review all your accounts
If you are uncertain on how to reset your information, please contact your security vendor for additional assistance.