Remember “Celebgate”? The incident was all over the news two years ago and involved hackers stealing private photos from a number of celebrities’ iCloud accounts. Much of the content, some of which featured several Hollywood stars in a state of undress, ended up online.
Chicago resident Edward Majerczyk on Tuesday entered a guilty plea for his part in the crime, though it’s not thought he had any involvement in uploading the material to the internet.
Appearing in a U.S. District Court in Chicago, Majerczyk, 29, admitted to one count of unauthorized access to a protected computer to obtain information, local news media reported.
It’s believed the hacker used an email phishing scam to steal login information from more than 300 targeted victims during a nine-month period between November 2013 and August 2014.
The emails looked as if they’d been sent by the victims’ internet service providers, a scam that proved so effective it tricked them into giving up their usernames and passwords.
The defendant told Judge Kocoras he’d learned how to execute the phishing scam from someone else on the web. The procedure, when targeted celebrities fell for it, enabled him to explore the private cloud-based accounts of well-known figures such as Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, and Kirsten Dunst in the hunt for “sensitive images.”
Majerczyk’s lawyer, Thomas Needham, insisted his client at no point sold or disseminated the stolen material, prompting the judge to ask if his actions were simply “for his own personal satisfaction and enjoyment.” Needham said that this was indeed the case.
Sentencing has been set for January 10, with court records indicating prosecutors will seek a nine-month jail term for the defendant, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Such a crime would ordinarily result in a jail term of up to five years, but earlier this year Majerczyk agreed to plead guilty as part of a deal for a reduced sentence.
Commenting on the crime earlier this year, the FBI’s Deirdre Fike pointed out that Majerczyk had not only hacked into e-mail accounts but also “hacked into his victims’ private lives, causing embarrassment and lasting harm.”
“As most of us use devices containing private information, cases like this remind us to protect our data,” Fike said, adding, “Members of society whose information is in demand can be even more vulnerable, and directly targeted.”
Hacker Ryan Collins in March also pleaded guilty to using a similar technique to steal private material linked to mostly female celebrities, but it’s not thought Majerczyk and Collins cooperated at any point.