Christopher Chaney, 35, was arrested in Jacksonville, Florida as a result of an 11-month investigation into hacking of over 50 victims in the entertainment industry also including actresses Christina Aguilera and Mila Kunis.
The suspect was brought before a court in Florida and was released on $10,000 bond to appear there again Friday, on conditions including that he have “no access to a computer or other device with Internet access.”
He is expected to be transferred to face trial in Los Angeles, where he faces up to 121 years in prison if convicted on 26 indictments, including accessing and damaging computers, wire tapping and identify theft.
“Celebrity information is highly marketable,” said Steven Martinez, head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Los Angeles office, after what was dubbed “Operation Hackerazzi.”
“While the case against Mr. Chaney involves celebrities who were targeted because of their fame, this case reminds us that we are all potential victims of computer hackers,” added US Attorney Andre Birotte Jr.
Aguilera’s computer was hacked last December, when racy photos of her also hit the Internet. Kunis’ cell phone was hacked in September with photos of her including one in a bathtub spread online.
The hacked pictures of Johansson, star of “The Horse Whisperer” and “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” appeared in mid-September and showed her in a state of undress in a home setting.
In one she was had a towel wrapped round herself with her face to the camera, her unclothed rear view clearly visible in a mirror. In other photos she was topless, and apparently photographed herself with a smartphone camera, taking at least one shot on a bed.
Apart from Johansson, Aguilera and Kunis, the FBI listed other celebrity victims only by their initials.
These included J.A. — the TMZ website reported that actress Jessica Alba was among the victims. When asked if initials, “B.P.” were for Brad Pitt, U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte, Jr., replied, “I can’t comment. Nice try, though.”
Birotte confirmed that all the Johansson photos are suspected to have been hacked by Chaney.
“He also took financial information, movie scripts and conversations that the victims believed were private,” said Birotte, adding that Chaney allegedly had the ability, “to see the e-mails received and sent,” to a hacked account.
FBI officials explained what they believe was Chaney’s elaborate system of hacking celebrity e-mail accounts.
First, Chaney allegedly used open-source, public information to try to guess a celebrity’s e-mail password, and then would breach the account.
He then allegedly communicated directly with contacts found in the hacked e-mail’s address list and would also search the account for photos, information and other data.
To control the account, Chaney allegedly altered the e-mail’s account settings to go to a separate, unrelated e-mail address that he controlled. After gaining complete access to the hacked account, Chaney then used the contact list to, “harvest,” new targets, the FBI said.
There was no immediate response from publicists for Johansson, Aguilera or Kunis to the FBI announcement.