- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A second computer hacker has pleaded guilty to breaking into hundreds of email accounts and stealing nude photos of female celebrities two years after the so-called “Celebgate” leak spurred an ongoing federal investigation.

Edward Majerczyk, 29, pleaded guilty in a Chicago courthouse Tuesday morning to one count of unauthorized access to a protected computer to obtain information, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Prosecutors say Majerczyk — a self-described “computer nerd,” according to the Tribune — used a tactic known as spear-phishing to illegally gain access to more than 300 Apple iCloud and Gmail accounts between November 2013 to August 2014.

Posing as a security technician, the hacker send hand-crafted emails prompting recipients to enter their usernames and passwords in a custom website where he would collect the credentials and then log in on his own, stealing “sensitive and private photographs and videos” pertaining to at least 30 celebrities, the Tribune reported

Majerczyk faced a maximum sentence of five years behind bars when he was formally charged in Los Angeles in July, but prosecutors agreed to seek a nine-month prison sentence after he promised to plead guilty. The case was formally transferred in August to Chicago, where the plea deal was accepted Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Charles Kocora.

“He screwed up and he’s moving on with his life and he looks forward to rebuilding his life as soon as this case is over with,” his defense attorney, Thomas Needham, told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Another man, Ryan Collins of Pennsylvania, pleaded guilty in March to one felony count of computer hacking in a similar scheme that successfully targeted dozens of celebrities during the same time frame, but authorities say the hackers worked independently of one another.

Majerczyk’s victims aren’t named in court filings, but investigators linked the IP address of his Chicago apartment to computers used in a spear-phishing campaign whose targets ranged from actress Jennifer Lawrence to model Kate Upton and her boyfriend, Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander.

Ms. Lawrence later described the cyberattack as a “sex crime.” 

Authorities and have failed to find evidence linking either Majerczyk or Collins to the actual “Celebgate” photo leak in 2014 when private photos of those celebrities and dozens more were dumped on the web.

Mr. Needham noted his client took no effort to capitalize off the hack while speaking in court Tuesday, the Tribune reported.

“So essentially it was for his own personal satisfaction and enjoyment?” Judge Kocoras asked.

“Yes, your honor,” Mr. Needham responded.

Thom Mrozek, a spokesman with the U.S. attorney’s office, told the Tribune on Tuesday that a federal investigation focused on finding the source of the leak is still ongoing.

Collins and Majerczyk are scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 25 and Jan. 10, respectively.

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