Hacker who stole celebrities' nude photos will plead guilty

Using phishing emails and guesswork, the Pennsylvania man rummaged through actresses' iCloud accounts. He's not accused of sharing the photos.

Laura Hautala
Laura Hautala
Laura Hautala Former Senior Writer
Laura wrote about e-commerce and Amazon, and she occasionally covered cool science topics. Previously, she broke down cybersecurity and privacy issues for CNET readers. Laura is based in Tacoma, Washington, and was into sourdough before the pandemic.
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Laura Hautala
2 min read

A hacker who accessed accounts of actress Jennifer Lawrence, pictured above, and more than 100 other people agreed Tuesday to plead guilty to a felony hacking charge.

Mike Nelson/EPA/Corbis

Remember "Celebgate," when a hacker got into actresses' iCloud accounts and grabbed their nude photos?

The feds never forgot. And on Tuesday, the US Department of Justice said Ryan Collins, 36, has agreed to plead guilty to the 2014 hack (also referred to as The Fappening, a combination of Internet slang for masturbation and happening) that stole photos from celebrities' iCloud and Google accounts.

"[Collins] was charged today with felony computer hacking related to a phishing scheme that gave him illegal access to more than 100 Apple iCloud and Gmail accounts, including those belonging to members of the entertainment industry in Los Angeles," according to a statement from the Justice Department. Jennifer Lawrence, Kirsten Dunst, Kaley Cuoco and Kate Upton, among others, confirmed the photos were authentic.

The photos were spread widely on Web forums like Reddit and 4chan. Collins is not charged with leaking the photos after taking them. "Investigators have not uncovered any evidence linking Collins to the actual leaks or that Collins shared or uploaded the information he obtained," the Justice Department said in its statement.

Collins, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, accessed the women's accounts through one of two methods: He sent emails that looked like they came from an Apple or Google representative, or he guessed their passwords. He faces up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines, plus potential restitution owed to the victims.

"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," David Bowdich, the assistant director in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles Field Office, said in a statement.

Lawrence spoke candidly about her reaction to the hack, telling NPR's Terry Gross how invasive she found it.

The Justice Department said its investigation continues.