A Florida man who was arrested on charges that he hacked the e-mail accounts of actress Scarlett Johansson and at least 49 other celebrities and their friends says he’s glad he got caught because he was addicted to the hacking and couldn’t stop.
Christopher Chaney, 35, of Jacksonville, Florida, told a local Florida news station that his hacking began simply as a “curiosity” but soon turned into an addiction for stealing celebrity secrets.
“It just happened and snowballed,” he said, adding that he was “almost relieved months ago” when law enforcement agents seized his computer during a search.
“I didn’t know how to stop doing it myself,” he said.
Last month, photos that Johansson took of herself in the nude appeared online and showed her looking seductively at a phone camera as she snapped images of her bare breasts while lying on a bed. Another image showed her bare backside, taken as she looked into a mirror.
The celebrity website TMZ announced around the time that it had also seen photos of actress Mila Kunis that someone had obtained, which showed her in a bathtub with only her head peeking above the edge of the tub. A separate photo of Justin Timberlake showed him lying shirtless in a bed with a pair of pink women’s underwear over his head, TMZ reported. The website did not publish the images.
A number of Chaney’s victims are identified only by their initials in the indictment (.pdf) (such as B.G., B.P., D.F., J.A., L.S. and L.B.) though Kunis, Johansson, Christina Aguilera and Renee Olstead are identified in full, as is Simone Harouche, a fashion stylist and handbag designer.
Chaney, who used the online nicknames “trainreqsuckswhat,” “anonygrrl,” and “jaxjaguars911,” has been indicted on nine counts of computer hacking, eight counts of aggravated identify theft, and nine counts of illegal wiretapping. His nickname “trainreqsuckswhat” is a reference to another alleged celebrity hacker named Josh Holly who told Threat Level in 2008 that he had hacked Miley Cyrus’s email account and stole suggestive photos of her that were later posted online.
According to CNN, Chaney was able to guess the passwords celebrities used for their email accounts by monitoring their social media accounts for possible clues — such as a pet’s name — that might point to a password.
Once he hacked into a celebrity’s e-mail account, he’d search the celebrity’s contact list for other celebrity e-mail accounts and then target those victims, authorities say. He’d then alter the account settings to automatically forward a copy of any e-mails the celebrity received to an e-mail account Chaney controlled.
Chaney said in the interview just after being released on bail that he didn’t begin the hacking with the intent of selling photos he found or otherwise exposing them on the internet.
Instead, he did it just to see how easy it would be to do it. He says he never sold any celebrity pictures or information that he gleaned from reading emails, but he says someone did contact him at one point wanting to get pictures from him to sell, but he says he refused. Authorities, however, say he did distribute some information he received from celebrity accounts.
He now regrets his activity, saying he takes responsibility for what he did.
“I deeply apologize,” he told the WAWS news station in Florida. “I know what I did was probably one of the worst invasions of privacy someone could experience. And these people don’t have privacy to begin with. And I was in that little sliver of privacy they do have.”
Chaney has been released on a $10,000 unsecured bond and faces a possible maximum sentence of 121 years if convicted on all charges.