Florida man Christopher Chaney has pleaded guilty to hacking into the emails of more than 50 celebrities, namely Scarlett Johansson and Mila Kunis, which had led to the leak of nude and other explict photos.
The 35-year-old Jacksonville resident was taken into custody after making his plea on Monday, March 26. He is due to be sentenced on July 23 and faces a maximum punishment of 60 years in federal prison.
'I have confidence that justice will prevail and that the court will set a precedent for a 'no tolerance policy' in regards to identity theft, computer hacking and invasion of privacy," Johansson said in a statement obtained by OnTheRedCarpet.com.
Chaney was arrested in October 2011 amid federal investigation dubbed "Operation Hackerazzi," launched after a slew of nude photos of Johansson, Kunis and other stars surfaced online over the course of several months.
Chaney had pleaded not guilty in November. The United States Attorney Central District of California said in a statement on Monday, March 26, that Chaney had struck a deal with prosecutors.
He pleaded guilty to nine felony counts, including unauthorized access to protected computers in furtherance of wiretapping and wire fraud, unauthorized damage to protected computers, resulting in a loss of more than $5,000, and wiretapping. Had he been convicted of all 28 felony counts listed in his indictment, he would have faced a 121-year prison sentence.
"During the hearing, Chaney admitted that from at least November 2010 to October 2011, he hacked into the email accounts of Scarlett Johansson, Mila Kunis, Renee Olstead and others by taking the victims' email addresses, clicking on the 'Forgot your password?' feature, and then resetting the victims' passwords by correctly answering their security questions using publicly available information he found by searching the Internet," the statement said.
Chaney admitted that he obtained private photos and other confidential materials, such as contracts, film scripts and social security information. He also found new people to target by browsing through email accounts he had hacked and then proceeded to email them, posing as the owners of the accounts, to request more private photos to be sent. He saved them on his own computer.
"Chaney e-mailed many of the stolen photographs to others, including another hacker and two gossip websites," prosecutors said. "As a result, some of those stolen photographs, several of which were explicit, were later posted on the Internet."
Chaney also told prosecutors he changed the victims' settings so that copies of all incoming mail would be forwarded to him. He received thousands of emails this way, the statement said. At some point, he tried to "cover his tracks" by using a proxy service and a different computer.
As part of the plea agreement, Chaney agreed to "forfeit his computers and related devices seized during the investigation, to pay restitution to all of the victims for any losses they suffered and to comply with strict restrictions regarding his future use of computers and computer-related devices." The government will in turn dismiss 19 more felony counts, including nine for aggravated identity theft.
"It was extremely creepy," the actress said on "The Late Show With David Letterman." "My password was constantly changing for months and months and I kept thinking why is my password always changing. So it meant the guy was there constantly, constantly, every 20 seconds. I don't know he was sitting there all pasty and sweaty and pervy and weird."
She also told CNN: "Just because you're in the spotlight or just because you're an actor or make films or whatever doesn't mean you're not entitled to your own personal privacy."