Lancaster Man Pleads Guilty To Hacking Apple And Google E-Mail Accounts Belonging To More Than 100 People, Mostly Celebrities
HARRISBURG – The United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania announced today that a Lancaster man pled guilty to felony computer hacking charges related to a phishing scheme that gave him illegal access to over 100 Apple and Google e-mail accounts, including those belonging to members of the entertainment industry in Los Angeles.
According to United States Attorney Peter Smith, Ryan Collins, age 36, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, pled guilty to a felony violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act before Senior U.S. District Court Judge William W. Caldwell in Harrisburg. Collins pled guilty to one count of unauthorized access to a protected computer to obtain information. He faces up to five years’ imprisonment and $250,000 fine as a result of the guilty plea. No date was set for sentencing.
Collins admitted that from November 2012 until the beginning of September 2014, he engaged in a 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.
The charge against Collins stems from the investigation into the leaks of photographs of numerous female celebrities in September 2014 known as “Celebgate.” However, investigators have not uncovered any evidence linking Collins to the actual leaks or that Collins shared or uploaded the information he obtained.
Many of Collins’ victims 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, most of which belonged to female celebrities.
The case was investigated by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Bruce Brandler, Chief of the Criminal Division.
A sentence following a finding of guilt is imposed by the Judge after consideration of the applicable federal sentencing statutes and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.
Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the Judge is also required to consider and weigh a number of factors, including the nature, circumstances and seriousness of the offense; the history and characteristics of the defendant; and the need to punish the defendant, protect the public and provide for the defendant's educational, vocational and medical needs. For these reasons, the statutory maximum penalty for the offense is not an accurate indicator of the potential sentence for a specific defendant.
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