A Jacksonville man was charged with hacking into the emails of dozens of people, including Christina Aguilera, Scarlett Johansson and Mila Kunis, in a computer invasion scheme that targeted Hollywood celebrities, according to documents released Wednesday.
Christopher Chaney, 35, hacked Google, Apple and Yahoo email accounts beginning last November and December, then hijacked the forwarding feature so that a copy of every email received was sent "virtually instantaneously" to an email account he controlled, according to an indictment handed up Tuesday by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles.
Chaney was arrested by the FBI at his Westside home Wednesday morning.
There were more than 50 victims, including actress Renee Olstead, according to the indictment.
Chaney offered some material, including photographs, to celebrity blog sites and some of the files and photographs ultimately were posted, according to an FBI statement.
Chaney allegedly used the hacker names "trainreqsuckswhat," ''anonygrrl" and "jaxjaguars911." He is charged with 25 counts of identity theft, wiretapping, unauthorized access and unauthorized damage to a protected computer.
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 email account, he would obtain private information, such as emails 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.
In most cases, Chaney accessed the administrative settings on the victims' accounts so that all of their emails would automatically be forwarded to a separate email account Chaney controlled, according to the indictment. This form of wiretapping allowed Chaney to continually receive victims' emails even after a password had been reset.
"Because, we allege in this case, that Chaney had instructed the victims' email servers to forward messages to him, he was able to intercept and view those very same emails, with the victims being absolutely unaware that their private communication had been compromised," U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
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.
The FBI announced that it had made an out-of-state arrest Wednesday morning in a year-long investigation of celebrity hacking that was dubbed Operation Hackerazzi.
A message seeking comment was left on an answering machine for a Christopher Chaney in Jacksonville. There was no answer at a telephone listing for another Christopher Chaney.
Nude shots of Johansson appeared on an Internet site earlier this year and TMZ.com reported that hackers stole them from her cellphone.
Chaney made his first appearance in U.S. District Court in Jacksonville on Wednesday afternoon. He was then released to the custody of his parents on $10,000 bail, with one of several conditions being that he have no access to any computer or other device that has access to the Internet.
Chaney's parents said their son is very smart and just had too much time on his hands.
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.
Celebrities and people in the news have long been targets of privacy invasion but concerns have redoubled in the Internet age.
In Britain, publisher Rupert Murdoch closed down the News of the World this year after contentions that the tabloid routinely hacked into people's phones in the hunt for exclusive stories.
The paper, which had published for 168 years, faced allegations of systematically intercepting private voice mail of those in the news -- including a teenage murder victim.