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'Hollywood Hacker' Collared by FBI

The FBI says it has arrested a man who it claims is responsible for hacking into actress Scarlett Johansson's e-mail account

A man alleged to have hacked into the personal email accounts of celebrities, including Scarlett Johansson and Christina Aguilera, was arrested yesterday by the FBI.

Christopher Chaney, 35, of Jacksonville, Fla., was arrested without incident after a grand jury in Los Angeles issued a sealed indictment against the alleged hacker charging him with accessing protected computers without authorization, damaging protected computers without authorization, wiretapping and aggravated identity theft.

Over a period of 11 months, the FBI said in a statement, Chaney leveraged publically available information about his entertainment targets to gain access to their email accounts, from which he robbed private information, including address books used to find more victims. Chaney offered some of that information—most notoriously nude pictures of Scarlett Johansson—to various celebrity blog sites, resulting in some of the information being posted to the Internet for public view.

Chaney also altered the account settings of his targets so all their email would be forwarded to his email account, the FBI said. That allowed him to slurp email from the accounts even after the passwords to them had been changed.

According to the FBI, Chaney will initially appear before a judge in U.S. District Court in Jacksonville, where it's anticipated the government will ask that he be sent to Los Angeles for trial.

If convicted of all counts, Chaney faces a statutory maximum penalty of 121 years in federal prison.

“While the case against Mr. Chaney involves celebrities who were targeted because of their fame, this case reminds us that we are all potential victims of computer hackers,” stated United States Attorney André Birotte Jr.

“Everyone can take simple steps that will help protect a computer system," he continued. "Taking these steps will go a long way in protecting yourself from the financial and emotional costs of having someone intrude on your private life and potentially steal your identity."

Here are a couple of ways recommended by the FBI to protect yourself from cyber snoops:

  • Use robust passwords. Try establishing five or six robust passwords, each containing letters, numbers and non-alpha-numeric characters, then designate a password for each area of your life. For instance, you might use one password for work, another for social networking and a third for financial transactions. That way, if one of your passwords is compromised, it won’t affect all of your accounts. Remember to change passwords frequently.
  • Limit personal information. Dates of birth, addresses, children’s names are all ammunition for identity thieves. Be vague. Offer a city but not an address, your name and age but not a birth date.

Peeping into celebrity email and smartphones has become a specialty among some hacker groups. Just last month, a group calling itself Hollywood Leaks posted to the Internet personal information from the cellphones and email accounts of Corky Ballas, Jenny Garth, Chris Judd, Miley Cyrus and rapper Kreayshawn.

Follow freelance technology writer John P. Mello Jr. and Today@PCWorld on Twitter.

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