Pennsylvania Man Sentenced Today to 18 Months in Federal Prison for Hacking Apple and Google E-Mail Accounts Belonging to More Than 100 People, Including Many Celebrities
LOS ANGELES – A Pennsylvania man was sentenced today on felony computer hacking charges related to his illegal access of over 100 Apple and Google e-mail accounts, including those belonging to members of the entertainment industry in Los Angeles.
Ryan Collins, 36, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was sentenced in United States District Court in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to 18 months in federal prison for a felony violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. He was taken into custody immediately after sentencing.
Collins pled guilty in May to one count of unauthorized access to a protected computer to obtain information. Collins was originally charged in Los Angeles, but the parties agreed to transfer the case to Harrisburg in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, near Collins’ home, for the entry of his guilty plea and sentencing.
The case against Collins stems from the investigation into the leaks of photographs of numerous female celebrities in September 2014, known as “Celebgate.” Investigators have not uncovered any evidence linking Collins to the actual leaks or that Collins shared or uploaded the information he obtained, however.
“Hackers violate federal law whenever they access private information stored online and in digital devices,” said Eileen M. Decker, United States Attorney for the Central District of California. “Today people store important private information online and in their digital devices, which is why my office is deeply committed to holding hackers accountable, even when they do not sell or distribute the stolen data.”
From November 2012 until the beginning of September 2014, Collins engaged in a sophisticated phishing scheme to obtain usernames and passwords for his victims. He sent e-mails to victims that appeared to be from Apple or Google and asked victims to provide their usernames and passwords.
When the victims responded, Collins then had access to the victims’ e-mail accounts. After illegally accessing the e-mail accounts, Collins obtained personal information including nude photographs and videos. In some instances, Collins would use a software program to download the entire contents of the victims’ Apple iCloud backups. In addition, Collins ran a modeling scam in which he tricked his victims into sending him nude photographs.
Investigators identified over 600 victims, many of whom were members of the entertainment industry in Los Angeles. By illegally accessing the e-mail accounts, Collins accessed at least 50 iCloud accounts and 72 Gmail accounts, many of which belonged to female celebrities.
"The defendant intruded into the online accounts of hundreds of victims and in doing so, intruded upon their lives, causing lasting distress," said Deirdre Fike, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI's Los Angeles Field Office. "The prison sentence received by Mr. Collins is proof that hacking into the accounts of others and stealing private information or images is a crime with serious consequences."
The case against Ryan Collins was investigated by FBI agents based in Los Angeles, and the plea agreement was negotiated by Assistant United States Attorneys Ryan White and Vicki Chou in the United States Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles. The United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania assisted in the prosecution by handling the guilty plea and sentencing.