Ah, youth. That time of unparalleled self-assuredness, recklessness, and let’s face it — sometimes, stupidity. While 23-year-old Alonzo Knowles‘ hacking talents are rather impressive, as he managed to obtain personal information from the email accounts of 130 celebrities, his attempt to sell some of his illegally gotten materials to a famous radio host have now landed him in extremely hot water. Now, federal prosecutors are charging the Bahamas native of felony criminal copyright infringement and identity theft.
According to court papers filed in Manhattan, Knowles has been arrested for his “scheme to sell stolen scripts of upcoming movies and television shows, and the personal identification information and private, sexually explicit videos of celebrities and other professionals in the entertainment, professional sports, and media industries … all of which Knowles obtained by gaining unlawful access to the victims’ personal email accounts.”
The hacker was initially implicated after setting up a video chat with an “interested buyer,” who turned out to be an undercover agent. In their conversation, Knowles offered a veritable treasure trove of data, including “scripts for three comedy films, a hip-hop biopic, and another television show; Social Security numbers for actors and professional athletes; and, according to the complaint, sex tapes of celebrities,” The New York Times reports.
“This case has all of the elements of the kind of blockbuster script the defendant, Alonzo Knowles, is alleged to have stolen: hacks into celebrities’ private emails, identity theft, and attempts to sell victims’ information to the highest bidder,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. “Unfortunately, these circumstances are all too real.”
The relative ease with which Knowles was able to gain access to many of these accounts is perhaps the most alarming facet of the situation. Allegedly, the 23-year-old first examined available photos of famous celebrities, hoping to deduce who their friends were (whose accounts he hacked into first). Then, armed with friends’ information, Knowles found the beginnings of celebrities’ personal data, such as their phone numbers. He would proceed to text victims to tell them that their accounts had been compromised, asking for their passwords for security purposes.
From there, Knowles would simply infect celebrities’ computers with a virus that allowed him to continually access their correspondences.
Neither Knowles nor his lawyer have commented on the charges thus far, each of which could result in a maximum prison sentence of five years.