One of the hackers responsible for compromising hundreds of nude photos of celebrities including Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton and Kirsten Dunst has pleaded guilty to computer misuse charges relating to the 2014 scandal dubbed 'The Fappening' or 'Celebgate'.
Following an FBI-led investigation, 36-year-old Ryan Collins of Lancaster, Pennslyvania, was charged with illegally gaining access to more than 100 Apple and Google email accounts and now faces up to five years in federal prison, according to the US Department of Justice.
Now, Collins has signed a plea agreement and will plead guilty to a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and, with a maximum prison term of up to five years, the filings indicate the term served will likely be closer to 18 months.
The court filings show that Collins engaged in a phishing scheme between November 2012 and September 2014 in order to obtain usernames and passwords of his victims' email accounts. In total, the hacker was able to compromise at least 50 iCloud accounts and 72 Gmail accounts, most of which belonged to female celebrities.
By posing as account administrators and tricking his victims into handing over login credentials, Collins would then log in and download the entire content of the backups saved on the account before searching for compromising photos or personal information.
However, investigators said they had not uncovered any evidence that linked Collins to the actual leaks or uploading of the stolen pictures to the internet. The now-infamous 'Fappening' saw hundreds of images being uploaded – and then mirrored – on popular messageboards such as 4Chan and Reddit.
'It is a sexual violation. It's disgusting'
"By illegally accessing intimate details of his victims' personal lives, Collins violated their privacy and left many to contend with lasting emotional distress, embarrassment and feelings of insecurity," said David Bowdich, assistant director in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles Field Office. "We continue to see both celebrities and victims from all walks of life suffer the consequences of this crime and strongly encourage users of Internet-connected devices to strengthen passwords and to be sceptical when replying to emails asking for personal information."
Following the scandal, which spread like wildfire thanks to social media, actor Jennifer Lawrence spoke candidly about how the incident impacted her personally in an interview with Vanity Fair.
"It is a sexual violation. It's disgusting. The law needs to be changed, and we need to change," she said. "Just because I'm a public figure, just because I'm an actress, does not mean that I asked for this. It does not mean that it comes with the territory. It's my body and it should be my choice, and the fact that it is not my choice is absolutely disgusting. I can't believe that we even live in that kind of world."