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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of Virginia

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, March 1, 2019

Former High School Teacher Sentenced for “Celebgate” Hacking

RICHMOND, Va. – A Richmond man was sentenced today to almost three years in prison for charges of unauthorized access to a protected computer and aggravated identity theft.

According to court documents, Christopher Brannan, 31, intentionally accessed without authorization Internet and email accounts, including Apple iCloud, Yahoo!, and Facebook accounts, and obtained complete iCloud backups, photographs, and other private information belonging to more than 200 victims, including both celebrities and non-celebrities. Brannan hacked email accounts by answering security questions that he could easily research by reviewing victims’ Facebook accounts.

Brannan also gained access to victims’ accounts by using phishing email accounts designed to look like legitimate security accounts from Apple. Because of the victims’ belief that the email had come from Apple, the victims would provide their usernames and passwords. Brannan would then access the victims’ email accounts, and search for personal information such as sensitive and private photographs and videos, including nude photographs. Authorities identified Brannan as a suspect during a California-based FBI investigation into hacked iCloud accounts commonly known as “Celebgate.”

As part of Brannan’s plea agreement, the United States made a non-binding recommendation to the Court that he be sentenced to 34 months in prison. At sentencing, Senior U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson accepted the government’s recommendation and imposed the agreed-upon sentence.

This matter stems from an investigation conducted by the FBI in Los Angeles into the leaks of photographs of numerous female celebrities in September 2014. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, which is leading the prosecution, filed charges against Brannan in April, and the parties later agreed to transfer the case to the Eastern District of Virginia for further prosecution.

G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Thomas M. Chadwick, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Richmond Field Office, made the announcement after the sentencing hearing. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brian R. Hood of the Eastern District of Virginia and Ryan White of the Central District of California prosecuted the case.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information is located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 3:18-cr-118.

Topic(s): 
Cyber Crime
Identity Theft
Contact: 
Joshua Stueve Director of Communications joshua.stueve@usdoj.gov
Updated March 12, 2019