It seems that every day now, we hear about someone, somewhere, breaking and hacking into personal files on personal computers, and mobile devices, without much of a sweat. Just a couple of weeks ago, I reported about the arrest of a young Arizona man charged with extensive computer attacks against the computer systems of Sony Pictures Entertainment. That is just one out of many incident.
The very publicised arrest this Wednesday of Christopher Chaney of Jacksonville, Florida, for hacking into more than 50 celebrities accounts, brings attention to our fascination with celebrities, but more importantly, to our own vulnerability against cyber crimes.
Chaney's arrest followed an investigation dubbed “Operation Hackerazzi." He is charged with a whole slew of cybercrimes; accessing protected computers without authorization; damaging protected computers without authorization; wiretapping; and aggravated identity theft. Pretty serious stuff.
Even though there were more than 50 celebs victimized, only a few were identified in the indictment. And Chaney really caught the world's attention, when he shared nude pictures of Scarlett Johansson, which he obtained by hacking into her personal e-mail account. All the stolen photos were private. And whether you are Hollywood celebrities living the glamour life or a stay-at-home mom, your nude pictures stored in your phone or computer clearly need to remain private.
So how did he do it? Chaney used information shared in the public eye, such as the name of pets, best friends', date of birth, and basically 'guessed' passwords to private accounts. Once inside he would mine private emails and attachments and set up connections that would then automatically forward future emails to accounts he controlled, even bypassing password changes.
Is it really that easy to break into someone personal's computer?
Apparently, if you know how to data mine, and collect information, "Yes. It’s absolutely common," said the FBI spokesperson, to me. "Just remember that teenagers have their whole life on Facebook. Maybe they'll start thinking twice before posting nude pictures of themselves.”
Further stern warning came from Steven Martinez, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, via a press statement. “As we highlight cyber awareness during the month of October, it’s important to remember that, although these victims appear to have been targeted based on their celebrity, similar methods may be used to illegally access any one of our computers... Strict computer security should be practiced when using smart phones, laptops, desktops, iPads, or any other device that provides Internet access.”
Chaney was released on an unsecured $10,000 bond to the custody of his parents, and is facing 121 years in prison.
The victims identified in the indictment are Simone Harouche, Mila Kunis from That 70s show, singer Christina Aguilera, actress Scarlett Johansson, Renee Olstead, B.P., J.A., L.B., L.S., D.F., and B.G.