The 35-year-old Jacksonville, Fla. man arrested for posting nude photos of Scarlett Johansson, Mila Kunis, Christina Aguilera and other celebrities has agreed to plead guilty to hacking charges in a Los Angeles court hearing later today.
Christopher Chaney has reportedly told the FBI he had hacked into the email addresses and cell phones of more than 50 female celebrities, setting them to auto-forward messages to a secret account of his so he would be able to keep track of password changes and other security measures.
Chaney, who described his habit as a compulsion similar to addiction, originally posed as a hacking group that called itself Hollywood Leaks, which took credit for posting nude photos of Johannson, photos from Vanessa Hudgens, Jessica Alba and Christina Aguilera, all stolen from their cell phone, Gmail or other online mail accounts.
He said he cracked their passwords using names, dates and other terms he found in online stories about the celebrity he was currently stalking.
Rather than hacking the phone itself or its online voice-mail, as reporters at News of the World did during the U.K.'s decade-long phone-hacking scandal, Chaney broke into the email accounts of celebrities and accessed email and pictures sent by celebrities using their phones.
The guilty plea is allegedly the result of a plea deal in which Chaney agreed to plead guilty to nine hacking-related felonies, including identity theft, wiretapping and unauthorized access to a computer, according to celebrity gossip site TMZ.
The charges could land him in jail for as long as 60 years, though he is unlikely to be sentenced to even a sixth of that.
He could also be fined up to $2.25 million and forced to pay restitution.
When Chaney was arrested after an investigation known as "Operation Hackerazzi," he faced charges with combined penalties of as long as 121 years.
"I deeply apologize," Chaney said during a video interview with local Los Angeles TV station WTEV. "It started as curiosity and it turned to just being addictive," he said. "Seeing the behind-the-scenes of what's going on with the people you see on the big screen."
Bringing down Christopher Chaney and his one-man campaign to publicize naked photos of all the top U.S. female celebrities certainly makes the Internet a safer place.
Nailing one perv does not make a dent in actual cybersecurity risks
Other things may not be fixed:
Security experts may be telling Congress U.S. government networks are so hopelessly compromised by hackers it would be easier to invent a whole new security scheme based on data-loss-protection than on keeping hackers out.
Google may have made the biggest change in online-privacy policies by scrapping almost 70 in one fell swoop;
the NSA may be building a giant Wal-Mart of a cyberespionage center with which to spy on Americans and foreigners alike, just as the FBI and CIA continue to trample all over our civil rights because the Internet is just a virtual place so their jackboots won't leave muddy tracks on the Constitution.
But pampered Hollywood beauties don't have to worry that Chris Chaney will continue to threaten the security of their nude phone pics.
I was starting to worry about all those other cybersecurity issues – failures in cybersecurity and defense that could leave the critical U.S. infrastructure exposed to attacks that would shut down our phone and power networks and, worse yet, allow raiders to penetrate the most private servers and data storage sites in the country to rip from the protection of Facebook and Gmail and Picasa every American's naked, self-shot cellphone pics, which would be spread ruthlessly across the Intertubes until a traumatized world begged to be released from the constant view of naked Americans.
Chris Chase will almost certainly go to prison after his sentencing in July.
Keep an eye on your own nudie pics, just in case (and so others don't have to)
Just as almost certainly, when he is sentenced, there will be another wave of coverage based on the knowledge that putting the words "nude," "Scarlett Johansson" and "photos" will draw page views to even the driest tech story like ants to a picnic (Yes, I know I'm doing it, too; I'm venal, not stupid.)
Each wave will collectively outweigh all the cyberwar and cybersecurity coverage posted anywhere online during the same period, and will be much more widely read. At least the headlines and the photo captions will be more widely read.
But will the rest of us be safe from hackerazzi intent on stealing private, nude photos of us as Christopher Chaney did to Scarlett Johansson, Mila Kunis, Jessica Alba and other beautiful celebrities?
Well, yes. Not safe from the FBI, CIA, Chinese military, Eastern European organized crime groups, domestic hacktivists or Indian call-center workers – all of whom claim unlimited rights of hackery within our virtual borders.
But from hackerazzi looking for the voyeuristic thrill of stealing racy pictures of famous, attractive people? Yeah. Look in the mirror; we're all pretty safe on that front.
You can go back to worrying about the Chinese and Russians and Anonymous and the feds. At least we don't have to get naked to be threatened by the likes of them.
Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.