- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 2, 2016

Edward Majerczyk of Chicago has agreed to plead guilty to one count of felony computer hacking related to a 2014 scheme whose victims included dozens of celebrities, prosecutors said Friday.

Mr. Majerczyk, 28, signed a plea agreement upon being formally charged Friday in connection with an investigation launched two summers ago after nude photos of female celebrities began widely circulating online.

Although not identified by name in court documents, investigators opened the probe after actresses including Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton and Lea Michele saw their personal photos appear on the internet. The ensuing scandal was dubbed “Celebgate” in the media, and spurred heated discussions about internet security as well as online privacy rights, particularly with respect to some of the biggest names in Hollywood.

The FBI began investigating the leak immediately after the images began appearing online in late August 2014, and executed a search warrant at Mr. Majerczyk’s Chicago apartment less than two months later. Evidence obtained by the FBI later indicated an iPad owned by Mr. Majerczyk had been used to hack into the victims’ accounts from an IP address registered to his residence.

According to the plea agreement signed Friday, Mr. Majerczyk used a phishing scheme to gain unauthorized access to over 300 Apple iCloud and Gmail accounts, including at least 30 belonging to celebrities: Posing as a member of either Apple or Google’s security team, Mr. Majerczyk sent emails to his victims instructing them to click that would then ask them to enter their usernames and passwords; prosecutors said he was then able to use that information in order to log-on to the compromise accounts, where he then obtained personal information including sensitive and private photographs and videos.

“This defendant not only hacked into e-mail accounts – he hacked into his victims’ private lives, causing embarrassment and lasting harm,” said Deirdre Fike, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office. “As most of us use devices containing private information, cases like this remind us to protect our data. Members of society whose information is in demand can be even more vulnerable, and directly targeted.”

In March, prosecutors secured a guilty plea from Ryan Collins, a 36-year-old Lancaster, Pennsylvania man who similarly gained access to over 100 iCloud and Gmail accounts. Neither Mr. Collins nor Mr. Majerczyk have been accused of actually leaking stolen content to the web, however, and authorities said the two men conducted their cybercrimes independently from one another.

Mr. Majerczyk faces a maximum sentence of five years behind bars when his guilty plea is formally entered into court, but the agreement he signed indicates he could end up serving as few as six month in prison. Mr. Collins’ plea agreement suggested a prison sentence not to exceed 18-months.

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