Hacker Admits to Stealing Celebrity Nude Photos, Takes Plea Deal

Prosecutors estimate Ryan Collins, 36, accessed at least 50 iCloud accounts and 72 Gmail accounts, “most of which belonged to female celebrities.”
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Kate Upton, Gabrielle Union, Jennifer Lawrence

The man who digitally victimized dozens of female celebrities, leading to a nude photo leak that shocked Hollywood, was charged Tuesday with felony computer hacking, according to a statement issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.

Ryan Collins, 36, is facing up to five years in federal prison, but prosecutors will recommend 18 months, according to the statement.

While the press release doesn't specifically mention any of the celebrities who were victimized, Jennifer Lawrence, Gabrielle Union, Kate Upton and Ariana Grande were just a few of the women in Hollywood whose personal lives were put on public display. 

In an essay for Cosmopolitan in late 2014, Union wrote that she felt a loss of control and an urgent need to speak out. 

"I didn't like the public perception of this scandal — that we were just a bunch of narcissistic, sexually deviant celebrities who got what we deserved for being dumb," the Being Mary Jane actress wrote. "No one deserves to have a private moment stolen, whether it's a photo, text or email. Everyone has intimate parts of their life they don't want the public to see."

Lawrence told Vanity Fair in a November 2014 article that the invasion of privacy was more than a scandal — it's a sex crime. 

"The law needs to be changed, and we need to change," she said in the cover story. "Just the fact that somebody can be sexually exploited and violated, and the first thought that crosses somebody’s mind is to make a profit from it."

The U.S. Attorney's statement uses facts from the plea agreement to explain how Collins executed the crime.

From November 2012 through September 2014, Collins phished for usernames and passwords by sending emails to victims that seemed to be from Apple or Google. When they responded, he then had access to their email accounts and personal information, including the nude photos, and in some instances he downloaded their Apple iCloud backups.

Prosecutors estimate Collins accessed at least 50 iCloud accounts and 72 Gmail accounts, “most of which belonged to female celebrities.”

“By illegally accessing intimate details of his victims' personal lives, Mr. Collins violated their privacy and left many to contend with lasting emotional distress, embarrassment and feelings of insecurity,” said David Bowdich, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, in the statement. “We continue to see both celebrities and victims from all walks of life suffer the consequences of this crime and strongly encourage users of Internet-connected devices to strengthen passwords and to be skeptical when replying to emails asking for personal information.”

While the charges against Collins stem from the FBI’s investigation into “Celebgate,” investigators have not found any evidence that links him to the actual leaks or proof that he shared or uploaded the information he accessed. 

Collins has agreed to plead guilty to a felony violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and to one count of unauthorized access to a protected computer to obtain information. He will enter his plea and be sentenced in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, which is near his town of Lancaster.

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