FBI arrests celebrity hacking suspect

The FBI has arrested a Florida computer hacker for allegedly hacking into the computers of Hollywood stars including Scarlett Johansson and Christina Aguilera, the agency said.

Christopher Chaney, 35, was arrested in Jacksonville, Florida as a result of an 11-month investigation into hacking of over 50 celebrity victims also including the actress Mila Kunis, the FBI said in a statement.

Aguilera's computer was hacked last December, when racy photos of her also hit the internet. Kunis's cell phone was hacked in September with photos of her including one in a bathtub spread online.

Steven Martinez, in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Los Angeles office, called Chaney's alleged actions a new form of, "hackerazzi," a play of the word, "paparazzi," of celebrity photographers.

"Celebrity information is highly marketable," Martinez said at a press conference in Los Angeles.

"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.

The FBI statement's victim list included Kunis, Aguilera, Johansson plus victims only identified 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, US Attorney Andre Birotte, Jr., replied, "I can't comment. Nice try, though."

Chaney faces up to 121 years in prison if convicted on 26 indictments, including accessing and damaging computers, wire tapping and identify theft. He used three aliases to carry out the attacks.

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.

Birotte confirmed that all the Johannson 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 emails received and sent," to a hacked account.

FBI officials explained what they believe was Chaney's elaborate system of hacking celebrity email accounts.

First, Chaney allegedly used open-source, public information to try to guess a celebrity's email password, and then would breach the account.

Chaney then allegedly communicated directly with contacts found in the hacked email's address list and would also search the account for photos, information and other data.

To control the account, Chaney allegedly altered the email's account settings to go to a separate, unrelated email 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.

He was scheduled to appear later Wednesday, local time, in a federal court later in Florida.

The indictment that led to Chaney's arrest was issued in Los Angeles, where he is expected to be tried. He was arrested without incident by the FBI, which provided no details about his background beyond his age.

There was no immediate response from publicists for Johansson, Aguilera or Kunis to the FBI announcement.

- AFP

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