Hackerazzi man pleads guilty to targeting celebrities Scarlett Johansson, Mila Kunis, 50 others

Christopher Chaney pleaded guilty to nine felony counts of a 28-count wiretapping, unauthorized computer access

In a highly publicized case last year, a Florida man this week pleaded guilty to hacking into the personal e-mail accounts of more than 50 actors including  Scarlett Johansson, Mila Kunis, Renee Olstead.

Specifically Christopher Chaney, 35, pleaded guilty to nine felony counts of a 28-count indictment, including unauthorized access to protected computers, wiretapping and wire fraud, unauthorized damage to protected computers resulting in more than $5,000 loss and physical harm.

Related: From Anonymous to Hackerazzi: The year in security mischief-making

According to the DoJ, Chaney admitted that from at least November 2010 to October 2011, he hacked into the e-mail accounts of Scarlett Johansson, Mila Kunis, Renee Olstead, and others by taking the victims' e-mail addresses, clicking on the "Forgot your password?" feature, and then re-setting the victims' passwords by correctly answering their security questions using publicly available information he found by searching the Internet. Once Chaney gained exclusive control of the victims' e-mail accounts, he was able to access all of their e-mail boxes. While in the accounts, Chaney also went through their contact lists to find e-mail addresses of potential new hacking targets.

The DoJ said n pleading guilty to the wiretapping charges, Chaney admitted that, for most victims, he also changed their e-mail account settings by inserting his alias e-mail address into the forwarding feature so that a duplicate copy of all incoming e-mails to the victims-including any attachments-would be sent virtually simultaneously to Chaney without the victims' knowledge. Most victims did not check their account settings, so even after they regained control of their e-mail accounts, Chaney's alias address remained in their account settings. As a result, for many victims, copies of their incoming e-mails, including attachments, were sent to Chaney for weeks or months without their knowledge, causing Chaney to receive thousands of victim e-mails. In addition, when a victim reset his/her password to regain control of the account, Chaney sometimes hacked into the account again and reset the password, sometimes multiple times, in order to continue illegally accessing that victim's account.

Chaney admitted that as his hacking scheme became more extensive, he began using a proxy service called "Hide My IP" because he knew what he was doing was illegal and wanted to "cover his tracks" so that law enforcement agents could not trace the hacking back to his home computer. Even after his home computers were seized by law enforcement, but before he was arrested, Chaney used another computer to hack into another victim's e-mail account, the DoJ said.

Chaney further admitted that as a result of his hacking scheme, he obtained numerous private communications, private photographs, and confidential documents from the victims' e-mail accounts. The confidential documents included business contracts, scripts, letters, driver's license information, and Social Security information. On several occasions, after hacking into victim accounts, Chaney sent e-mails from the hacked accounts to friends of the victims, fraudulently posing as the victims to request more private photographs. Chaney downloaded many of the confidential documents and photographs he stole to his home computer, where he saved them on his hard drive in separate computer file folders. Chaney e-mailed many of the stolen photographs to others, including another hacker and two gossip websites. As a result, some of those stolen photographs, several of which were explicit, were later posted on the Internet, the DoJ stated. 

Each charge of unauthorized access to a protected computer carries a maximum of five years in prison, each charge of unauthorized damage to a protected computer carries a maximum charge of 10 years in prison, and each charge of wiretapping carries a maximum of five years in prison

Chaney is scheduled to be sentenced July 23, 2012.

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8 and on Facebook

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