A hacker in the US has been arrested following a sting that found him to be in possession of celebrity sex tapes, dozens of unreleased movie and TV scripts, confidential music tracks, and the personal details, including Social Security numbers, of over 130 famous actors and athletes.
It is believed over 130 unnamed celebrities were compromised in a hack that allowed Alonzo Knowles, 23, access to some of the biggest secrets in the entertainment industry. However, he was caught out by federal investigators as he tried to sell them.
Another 'Celebgate' in the making
Knowles was attempting to negotiate the sale of highly sensitive material, including a sex tape he claimed he obtained, through an email exchange with a well-known radio show host. However the potential buyer was actually an undercover investigator. In a report by the New York Times he also offered to sell unreleased scripts for three comedy films, the script for a hip-hop biopic, and teased the buyer with pages from a hit television drama that was currently being filmed.
The report claims Knowles told the investigator he had "hundreds of thousands of dollars" worth of "exclusive content" and initially offered it to a well-known radio host in the hope he would be able to turn it into a book and make millions off the sales. This was his error.
The radio host, unsurprisingly, contacted the executives of the television drama series the hacker claimed to have the first six episodes of. The producer then got in touch with the Department of Homeland Security to get the radio host to set up a call between an agent posing as a buyer.
In a series of emails between the two parties it was discovered Knowles also offered 30 tracks off an unreleased album from a "very popular A-list celebrity" and 15 other scripts at the cost of $80,000 (£53,793). "This is just a sample of things I can get... I have more stuff along these lines and can get more if you're interested?" Knowles told the investigator.
How celebrities were hacked with ease
Knowles revealed how easy it was to obtain all this confidential and private information. He explained to the investigator that it is difficult to directly hack into the accounts and computers of high-profile celebrities. However, by finding photos of their friends online and then tracking them down, he then hacked into the accounts of the celebs' friends to dig up personal information on the celebrity, including their phone numbers.
He followed this by sending the victim a text message saying their account was breached and required a new password, which some replied to. He also revealed he simply sent a virus to some celebrities' computers, which allowed him access to the sensitive material.
This bears remarkable resemblance to the infamous 'Celebgate' celebrity photo hack in 2014 in which many Hollywood movie stars including Jennifer Lawrence and Kim Kardashian had their iCloud accounts hacked and intimate photos posted on website 4Chan.
So far, it is believed none of the material has been shared publicly as Knowles was likely holding out for a fee. Authorities were able to track down and arrest Knowles and he was charged with felony criminal copyright infringement and identity theft.