UPDATE: Ryan Collins was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison on October 26, 2016, after pleading guilty to a felony charge of unauthorized access to a protected computer to obtain information, the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California says.
Collins, 36, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was accused of hacking into celebrities phones to steal nude photos and other personal information. Authorities said Collins used phishing schemes to obtain usernames and passwords for more than 100 Google and Apple accounts. He was not accused of distributing the stolen material, but in September 2014, several explicit photos and videos belonging to celebrities were leaked to the public.
“Hackers violate federal law whenever they access private information stored online and in digital devices,” Eileen M. Decker, United States Attorney for the Central District of California, said in a statement. “Today people store important private information online and in their digital devices, which is why my office is deeply committed to holding hackers accountable, even when they do not sell or distribute the stolen data.”
You can read the original report below:
A 36-year-old Pennsylvania man has admitted to hacking female celebrities’ phones and email accounts to steal nude photographs and videos, federal prosecutors say.
Ryan Collins will plead guilty to unauthorized access to a protected computer to obtain information in federal court, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said Tuesday in a press release.
The case is connected to the 2014 scandal known as “Celebgate” or “The Fappening,” in which hundreds of nude photos and videos of celebrities, including Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton and several others, were released onto photo-sharing sites, Reddit, 4-Chan and on social media.
“Today, people store important private information in their online accounts and in their digital devices,” U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker said in a statement. “Lawless unauthorized access to such private information is a criminal offense. My Office remains committed to protecting sensitive and personal information from the malicious actions of sophisticated hackers and cyber criminals.”
The case originated in the Central District of California, but will be transferred to federal court in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where Collins will enter his guilty plea.
Collins and his attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Collins Used a Phishing Scheme to Gain Access to Email Accounts
Prosecutors said in court documents that Ryan Collins used a phishing scheme to obtain usernames and passwords from the victims and then illegally accessed their accounts using that information.
You can read the criminal information filing in the case below or by clicking here:
Prosecutors said Collins sent emails to the victims that appeared to either be from Apple or Google. In the emails, Collins asked the victims to give their usernames and passwords. When the victims responded with that information, Collins was able to log into their email accounts.
“After illegally accessing the e-mail accounts, Collins obtained personal information including nude photographs and videos, according to his plea agreement,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. “In some instances, Collins would use a software program to download the entire contents of the victims’ Apple iCloud backups.”
Collins was able to access 50 iCloud accounts and 72 Gmail accounts using the phishing scheme, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The hacks occurred between November 2012 and September 2014.
Many of the accounts belonged to women who are part of the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, prosecutors said.
“By illegally accessing intimate details of his victims’ personal lives, Mr. Collins violated their privacy and left many to contend with lasting emotional distress, embarrassment and feelings of insecurity,” David Bowdich, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, said in a statement. “We continue to see both celebrities and victims from all walks of life suffer the consequences of this crime and strongly encourage users of Internet-connected devices to strengthen passwords and to be skeptical when replying to emails asking for personal information.”
2. He Is Married With 2 Kids & Works for an eCommerce Marketing Company
Ryan Collins is married and has two children, according to his Facebook page. He is originally from Hershey, Pennsylvania, and currently lives in Lancaster.
He graduated from James Madison University in 2003 with a degree in integrated science and technology. He works as a creative project manager for the eCommerce marketing company Listrak in Lancaster, his Linkedin profile says.
He has previously worked as an art director and webmaster, and as a personal chef.
3. There Is No Evidence That Collins Leaked Any of the Stolen Photos to the Public
The U.S. Attorney’s Office has not connected Collins to the actual leak of the photos onto the Internet.
“The charge against Collins stems from the investigation into the leaks of photographs of numerous female celebrities in September 2014 known as “Celebgate,'” the U.S. Attorney’s office said in a press release. “However, investigators have not uncovered any evidence linking Collins to the actual leaks or that Collins shared or uploaded the information he obtained.”
Prosecutors have not said which celebrities were targeted by Collins. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan White told Buzzfeed News investigators used IP addresses to find Collins in September 2014, only weeks after the photos appeared online.
Jennifer Lawrence, one of the victims of the leak, has been outspoken about the damage it caused.
“It is not a scandal. It is a sex crime,” she told Vanity Fair. “It is a sexual violation. It’s disgusting. The law needs to be changed, and we need to change. That’s why these Web sites are responsible. Just the fact that somebody can be sexually exploited and violated, and the first thought that crosses somebody’s mind is to make a profit from it. It’s so beyond me. I just can’t imagine being that detached from humanity. I can’t imagine being that thoughtless and careless and so empty inside.”
Along with Lawrence, other victims included Anna Kendrick, Lea Michelle, Cara Delevingne, Victoria Justice, McKayla Maroney, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kaley Cuoco, Jessica Brown Findlay and Abigail Spencer.
4. He Faces Up to 5 Years in Prison, but His Deal Recommends He Serve 18 Months
Collins faces a maximum of five years in prison when he is sentenced. Prosecutors will recommend a sentence of 18 months, according to the plea agreement.
You can read the full plea agreement below or by clicking here:.
The judge in the case will make a final decision on sentencing. Collinss also faces up to $250,000 in fines and supervised release.
According to court documents, the stolen photos, videos and personal information has been valued at more than $5,000. He could also be ordered to pay restitution.
5. Police Raided 2 Chicago Homes in Connection With the Celebgate Investigation
The U.S. Attorney’s Office says the case is connected to an ongoing FBI investigation.
It is not clear if, or how, it is connected to the raids on two homes in Chicago by FBI agents last June.
The target of one of the raids was Emilio Herrera, who lives in a South Side home with his parents.
In the search warrant application, which was filed in October 2014, FBI Special Agent Josh Sadowsky writes, “Based on victim account records obtained from Apple, one or more computers used at (Herrera’s home) access or attempted to access without authorization multiple celebrities’ e-mail and iCloud accounts over the course of several months.”
The Chicago Sun-Times reported last month that another home in Chicago was also raided by the FBI in connection with the investigation. The target of that raid was not named in the Sun-Times report, and the search warrant application remains sealed.
Read more about Herrera and the raids at the link below: